The little-seen 1983 thriller Double Exposure has been released on Blu-ray by Vinegar Syndrome as a special edition. The film has an interesting background. It was originally filmed in 1971 under the title of The Photographer by director William Byron Hillman with Michael Callan cast as a photographer of beautiful women who also turns out to be a serial murderer. Hillman and Callan were frustrated that the movie received only a limited release. Twelve years later, they collaborated on a remake of the movie using the title Double Exposure. This time around, Callan served as an uncredited screenwriter on Hillman's new script and he also produced the movie, as well. Major script changes included having the main character, Adrian Wilde (Callan), not certain if he actually is a murderer. He's a generally kind and decent man who eeks out a modest living photographing models. He resides in a mobile home in L.A. which serves as his business office and bachelor pad. He is haunted by recurring nightmares of him committing horrendous murders of some of the women he photographs. When they actually start turning up dead, he is convinced he must be the culprit. He seeks guidance from his shrink (Seymour Cassel) and warns his new girlfriend, sexy Mindy (Joanna Pettet) that he has doubts about his sanity. He also seeks comfort from his brother B.J. (James Stacy) , a rather belligerent, bitter man who nevertheless has not allowed the loss of an arm and a leg prevent him from making a career of stunt driving. He also proves to be quite a lady's man and in one memorable sequence mud wrestles a bikini-clad girl in a bar. As the body count builds, Adrian slides further into madness.
The film is definitely of "B" movie caliber, but it's generally engrossing and well-made. Callan delivers a very fine performance in the lead role and he is more than matched by Stacy. Pettet does well as the female lead, and exposes a lot of flesh in a fairly graphic bedroom scene. There are other familiar faces who pop in and out of the film including Pamela Hensley as a detective assigned to track down the killer, Cleavon Little (largely wasted) as her perpetually grouchy superior officer and Robert Tessier as a skid row bar manager. Sally Kirkland and future Saturday Night Live star Victoria Jackson also have early career roles. Hillman directs efficiently, though the ending veers into cliched "woman in jeopardy" territory and the final few frames of the movie, in which the killer is unveiled, boasts some fine acting but disintegrates into a confusing and frustrating scenario in the last hectic seconds. Nevertheless, Double Exposure is a good thriller, well-made on a modest budget.
The Blu-ray/DVD combo has several impressive bonus features that vary from the previously issued DVD 2013 edition from Scorpion. They include:
New transfer from the original camera negative
Commentary track with director William Byron Hillman
Scorpion has released a Blu-ray edition of the 1979 Canadian disaster movie "City on Fire". If you've never heard of it, don't feel bad- neither had this writer and I thought I was quite familiar with the genre which arguably began with the release of "Airport" in 1970. The success of that film spawned similarly-themed adventures that generally found all-stars casts threatened by water, fire, animals and other forces of nature. Producer Irwin Allen hit two home runs with "The Poseidon Adventure" and "The Towering Inferno", the latter representing the artistic and commercial peak of the short-lived but highly popular genre. At its height even second-grade disaster flicks could make sizable profits (a low-grade Japanese import titled "Tidal Wave" was a hit after it was "Americanized" with some brief footage of Lorne Greene included.) By the late 1970s, however, fickle audiences had tired of the sheer predictability of the disaster movie premise. The release of "Star Wars" incited a new interest in sci-fi but there were still some attempts to pump life into disaster flicks even if most of the passion and creativity had been drained from these productions. "City on Fire" is about, as you might have guessed, a city on fire. The unnamed city (actually Toronto) is the setting for a catastrophic blaze that starts as an act of sabotage caused by a disgruntled employee at a large chemical plant that has been foolishly located in the center of the urban metropolis. The seemingly minor act of mischief quickly escalates when raw fuel pours unchecked into the city's water supply. A spark ignites a huge inferno that rapidly isolates a major part of the city in a ring of fire that makes it almost impossible for firefighters to penetrate, thus leaving it to the potential victims to find their own methods of escape. Most of the action takes place inside a major hospital which is being evacuated even as the flames make it unlikely that many of the staff and patients will be able to reach safety. In order to do so they must navigate a deadly gauntlet of fire.
"City on Fire" lacks the big budget production values of the more successful disaster movies but director Alvin Rakoff and production designer William McCrow get around that obstacle in very commendable ways. Rakoff does utilize the old stand by of using actual disaster footage from news broadcasts in certain instances and uses a jittery camera to provide a sense of impending danger to otherwise stagnant buildings, at times making it look like Don Knotts was the cameraman. However, the production design is quite good and Rakoff handles the action scenes very commendably. There are some cheesy special effects, primarily scenes of the skyline burning, but the up-close action footage is spectacular at times and the movie features some of the best stunt work I've seen including many instances of the stuntman's worst nightmare: the full-body burn. The biggest star in this budget-challenged production is Henry Fonda, then in the winter of his career and seemingly content to play characters of authority who sit around offices and control rooms barking orders over telephones (i.e "Meteor", "Rollercoaster" and "The Swarm"). Old Hank would prove he still had his mojo with his final film, "On Golden Pond", that saw him win an Oscar, but in the years leading up to that he was happy to pick up quick pay checks with supporting roles in populist fare. Here he plays the stalwart fire chief trying to cope with the loss of an entire city. Barry Newman is the playboy physician who is trying frantically to save his hospital which is in the direct line of fire. He's also juggling a strained relationship with old flame (pardon the pun) Susan Clark, a glam socialite who had once been his lover. Meanwhile, she is involved in an illicit affair with the mayor (Leslie Nielsen) and is unaware that there are incriminating photos that are about to be used to blackmail both of them. Shelley Winters is wasted in a throw-away role as a bossy nurse who acts a lot like Shelley Winters and James Franciscus is a TV news producer who is trying to keep wall-to-wall coverage on the air despite that the fact that his star anchor, an aging diva (Ava Gardner) has turned up drunk right before the broadcasts. One of the more rewarding aspects of the film is that it affords meaty roles to actors who are generally relegated to second-tier status. They all perform admirably but it's impossible to view any of Leslie Nielsen's pre-comedy career performances objectively. He became such a master of brilliantly spoofing his own acting style that when you view his dramatic work you keep waiting for punchlines and slapstick gags that never materialize. The film follows all the conventional elements of the standard disaster movie (i.e children in peril, a pregnant woman who goes into labor during the crisis, lovers reunited, etc.) I half expected the climax to feature the heroes trapped aboard an upended ocean liner while being menaced by a shark. However, I must say that I very much enjoyed "City on Fire". It boasts an intelligent script, fine direction and reasonably good performances. There is also an almost complete lack of humor, so you won't see Fred Astaire as a charming con man or an unbilled Walter Matthau getting soused in a bar in the midst of an earthquake. The sense of gravitas is in keeping with the dramatic scenario of people stranded within a ring of fire. The movie came a day late and a dollar short to capitalize on the disaster movie trend. It's not as slick or polished as the best entries in the genre but it's better than many others including Irwin Allen's career-ending turkeys, "The Swarm" and "When Time Ran Out".
The Scorpion Blu-ray contains a notice that the transfer was put together from various sources. There are a few blotches here and there but the Blu-ray generally looks fine. Bonus features include a TV spot for the film and a trailer gallery of other Scorpion releases. Recommended.
The blending of two disparate but popular film genres –
in this case, the horror/sci-fi film with the saddle opera - was hardly new
when The Valley of Gwangi hit the big
screen in 1969. This film’s most identifiable
predecessor, one pitting cowboys against a prehistoric monster, might be The Beast of Hollow Mountain (1956), but
truth be told Hollywood had been combining these two genres almost from the very
beginning. In the 1930s and ‘40s,
audiences thrilled to the ghostly monochrome exploits of such western serial heroes
as Ken Maynard, Buffalo Bill Cody, and Buster Crabbe with such films as Tombstone Canyon (1932), The Vanishing Riders (1935), and Wild Horse Phantom (1944). Universal’s Curse of the Undead (1959) was a later but no less interesting experiment
for Hollywood’s preeminent fright factory. The studio removed the vampire from the usual atmospheric Gothic
trappings of old Europe and dropped him onto the sagebrush plain.
On the far loopier end of the spectrum, the notorious director
William “One Shot” Beaudine, provided us with the ultimate in old west
weirdness with his legendary twin-bill of 1966, Billy the Kid vs. Dracula and Jesse
James vs. Frankenstein’s Daughter. 1973
brought to movie houses two of the more memorable big-screen blends: the
sci-fi/western Westworld and Clint
Eastwood’s prairie ghost saga High Plains
Drifter. This combining of westerns
and fantasy films continues, more or less, to this very day… as anyone who
caught the lavish CGI-fest Cowboys and
Aliens (2011) can attest.
Director James O’ Connolly’s The Valley of Gwangi is set mysteriously at the turn of the century
somewhere “South of the Rio Grande.” (Principal photography on The Valley of Gwangi was actually shot on
various locations throughout the deserts of Spain). The locals are enjoying a parade through a
dusty town. The parade has been staged
to promote K.J. Breckenridge’s wild and wooly Cowboys vs. Indians Wild West
Show. K.J.’s rodeo, not-politically
correct by today’s standards, is set to be held at an equally non-PC
bull-fighting arena. Contemporary
political activists needn’t grab their picket signs. The stadium is hardly filled to capacity, and
we soon learn Breckenridge’s rodeo is in dire financial straits. The show simply hasn’t been pulling in the
crowds of late, and even main attraction “Omar, the Wonder Horse,” whose equally
non-PC stage-jump from an elevated platform into a murky pool of water isn’t
enough to save this sad affair.
Suggesting the writing is on the wall, the sultry Breckenridge
(Gila Golan) is approached by smooth talking Tuck (James Franciscus), a
self-absorbed rodeo cowboy and former lover of T.J. Tuck now makes his living by booking acts for
a big entertainment consortium back east. He wants K.J. to sell off the rights to her semi-popular diving horse
act, but his ex-paramour is still bitter over their estrangement and not
interested in selling. Besides she
believes newly found prosperity is just around the corner. She agrees to show him the still-secret
attraction that she’s certain will reverse her rodeo’s downward spiral.
The budding impresario is stunned when she unveils “El
Diablo” a miniature horse that Tuck recognizes is no horse at all. It’s actually an Eohippus, a fifty-million year old ancestor of the equine. This was not a lucky guess, nor is the
startled ex-cowboy an expert on prehistoric beasts. Ten minutes earlier in the film Tuck had
gleaned this morsel of knowledge after stumbling upon a scotch drinking
Paleontologist camped in the scrub brush desert in search of fossils. Tuck responsibly alerts the amazed scientist (Laurence
Naismith) about the Eohippus (“The
greatest scientific discovery of the age!”) and together they learn the Eohippus was captured on the frontier outskirts
of the grimly named “Forbidden Valley.”
late Sergio Corbucci (1926-1990) had a long, prolific career in the Italian
film industry as a screenwriter and director, but little exposure in U.S. theaters
by comparison with his total output.IMDB credits him with sixty-three titles as director.By my count, eleven arrived on Stateside
screens, none of them earning Corbucci any real notice at the time.All were genre films -- first sword-and-sandal
movies, then Westerns -- before it was cool for critics to treat such products
seriously, especially dubbed imports.Three toga-and beefcake pictures -- “Goliath and the Vampires” (1961),
“Duel of the Titans” (1961), and “The Slave” (1962) -- were released on
drive-in and double-feature bills in the Hercules era.“Minnesota Clay” (1964) had a 1966 run
disguised as an American B-Western.“Navajo Joe” (1966) passed through theaters in 1967, earning a typically
dismissive review from Bosley Crowther in the New York Times (“results aren’t
worth a Mexican peso”).You had to use a
magnifying glass to see Corbucci’s name on the movie poster.In his 1994 autobiography, Burt Reynolds said
he only took the offer to star in the picture because he thought the director
would be the other Sergio . . . Leone.“The Hellbenders” (1967) came and went, also camouflaged as an American
production and promoting Joseph Cotten’s starring role.Cotten was a fine actor but hardly big
box-office in ’67.
Mercenary” (1968) enjoyed a higher profile in a 1970 release, but “Alberto
Grimaldi Presents . . .” dominated the credits, including the cover blurb on a
paperback novelization that touted the movie as “the bloodiest ‘Italian’
Western of them all . . . by the producer of ‘The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.’
” “Companeros” (1970) didn’t open in the
U.S. until 1972, and then only with limited distribution. “Sonny and Jed” (1972) followed in 1974. Neither made much of an impression as the
Spaghetti cycle waned here. “Shoot
First, Ask Questions Later” (1975), a sad attempt at comedy in the Spaghetti
twilight, loped through rural drive-ins. “Super Fuzz” (1980; U.S. distribution, 1982) was a Terence Hill police
comedy that the Times’ Herbert Mitgang said had “one funny gag a few minutes
before the end.” At least Mitgang noted
Corbucci and Hill by name as “longtime makers of spaghetti westerns.”
you were nostalgic for Italian Westerns in the late ‘70s and ‘80s, after the
cycle had come and gone in the States, you could read about Corbucci in
Laurence Staig and Tony Williams’ “Italian Western: The Opera of Violence”
(1975) and Christopher Frayling’s “Spaghetti Westerns: Cowboys and Europeans
from Karl May to Sergio Leone” (1981). There you would learn that one of Corbucci’s Westerns that never made it
to the States, “Django” (1966), was as wildly popular and influential overseas
as Sergio Leone’s movies. But good luck
in ever seeing it or Corbucci’s other Westerns, unless you might catch “The
Hellbenders” in a pan-and-scan, commercial-infested print on local TV.
to the advent of home video, cable, and streaming internet -- and in
particular, DVD and Blu-ray in which his films can be seen in the proper aspect
ratio and definition -- both the committed and the curious now have access to
virtually all of Corbucci’s thirteen Westerns, even the obscure “Grand Canyon
Massacre” (1964), his first powder-burner, co-directed with Albert Band. Is Quentin Tarantino justified in praising Corbucci
as “one of the great Western directors of all time”? Today, you don’t have to take Tarantino’s
word for it, or not; you can judge for yourself.
most accounts, a Corbucci Top Five would include “Django,” The Great Silence,”
“The Mercenary,” “Companeros,” and “The Specialist” (1969). The first four are all in relatively easy
reach in various formats and platforms. “Django,” “The Great Silence,” and “Companeros” have had domestic DVD
releases. “The Mercenary” hasn’t, but it
shows up periodically on cable channels, albeit in an edited version, and you
can find good DVD and Blu-ray editions with an English voice track through
Amazon and import dealers on the web.
Specialist” remains more elusive. Written and directed by Corbucci during his peak period, originally
titled “Gli specialisti” and also known as “Specialists” and “Drop Them or I’ll
Shoot,” this Western never played in U.S. theaters, has never had an American
video release, and is hard to find even on the collectors‘ market in a print
with an English-language option. Not to
be confused with other, unrelated films of the same name, including a mediocre
1994 Sylvester Stallone crime drama and an obscure 1975 B-movie with Adam West,
it is past due for official U.S. release on DVD. Or, better yet, on hi-def Blu-ray to give Corbucci’s
compositions and Dario Di Palma’s rich Techniscope and Technicolor
cinematography their due sharpness and color on home screens.
There is an immediate appeal in the very premise of Alfred
Hitchcock’s Lifeboat (1944), a
curiosity that stems from how exactly this story will play out and how the
Master of Suspense is going to keep the narrative taut and technically
stimulating. It was a gimmick he would repeat with Rope (1948), Dial M for
Murder (1954), and Rear Window
(1954), similar films where the drama is contained to a single setting. But
here, the approach is amplified by having the entirety of its plot limited to the
eponymous lifeboat, an extremely confined location that is at once anxiously restricting
and, at the same time, placed in a vast expanse of threatening openness.
Following a German U-boat attack that sinks an allied
freighter and creates the cramped, confrontational condition, a cast of nine
diverse, necessarily distinctive characters are steadily assembled aboard the
small vessel (and their variety is indeed necessary so as to tackle singular
themes and disparities). Starting with journalist Connie Porter (Tallulah Bankhead,
in the film’s featured and much-hyped performance), the improvised squad
includes: a member of the freighter’s crew, Kovac (John Hodiak), the radioman,
Stanley (Hume Cronyn), a steward, Joe Spencer (Canada Lee), seaman, Gus Smith
(William Bendix), a U.S. Army nurse, Alice (Mary Anderson), the wealthy
industrialist, Rittenhouse (Henry Hull), the shell-shocked Mrs. Higley (Heather
Angel), an Englishwoman who arrives with her already deceased infant child,
and, adding instant and inherent tension, Willi (Walter Slezak), a survivor
from the enemy German sub.
Connie is the most incongruous personality for such an
occasion. Initially adorned in a fine mink coat, accompanied by her camera, her
cigarettes and suitcases, all of which seem miraculously dry, she sure doesn’t
look like someone who has been torpedoed, as another character is quick to
point out. She and Rittenhouse will together serve as half of the film’s
embodied class consciousness, which is one of several social divisions alluded
to as explicit points of contention or simply hinted at as latent cultural
conflicts (“Do I get to vote too?” asks the African American Joe). Though
generally cordial and cooperative to start, the spirit of critical
collaboration doesn’t last. How could it? For a film like this, there needs to
be a breeding ground for consistent opposition, beyond the predictable clash
between Willi and the rest.
What develops is multi-leveled, ever-fluctuating suspicion,
a leery and fascistic survival of the fittest that hangs in the balance as the
winds of authority and hysteria blow. With his famously elaborate set-pieces
made impossible by Lifeboat’s scenario,
Hitchcock narrows his focus to the dynamic landscape of the human face, and the
film is nothing if not a revelatory study in human nature, especially when
individuals are in strained situations. There are constant disputes about the
best path forward, often grounded in ideological motivations derived from
political, religious, or national beliefs—whatever is needed to prevail and
retain a semblance of composure in the face of an extraordinary dilemma.
In a swift 97 minutes—its riveting progression a testament
to how the tension outweighs its spatial and dramatic limitations—the
characters endure assorted trials and tribulations, just enough to keep
everyone on edge, but not too many to seem unnatural. This ranges from the
unique (Gus’ impending leg amputation), to an issue that affects just a few
(cheating at cards), to something upon which all involved are invested (the
bliss of fresh rainwater to drink and the disappointment when the passing storm
doesn’t last). There are lingering doubts about motivation, the debatable
course of progress, and turn-on-a-dime behavioral shifts. Two passengers even
find time for romance.
To express all of this, and to keep the viewer engaged when
the actions and visuals, at least in a broad sense, are relatively reduced, the
writing of Lifeboat is tremendously
vital. While Hitchcock came up with the idea for the picture, the basic story
was written by John Steinbeck (after Hitch’s first choice, Ernest Hemingway,
passed). It was Steinbeck’s first fiction film, though he had written a
documentary in 1941. What he completed, however, resembled something more like
a novella. Subsequent writing and rewriting duties went to everyone from Harry
Sylvester and MacKinlay Kantor, to Jo Swerling, Ben Hecht, Hitchcock’s wife,
Alma Reville, and others. Ultimately, only Swerling gets the screenplay credit
(Steinbeck, who was so unhappy with the deviations in the final film that he
tried to have his name removed from the picture, gets original story).
Vampire Bat (1933) was a staple of TV late-night movie programming
well into the 1980s. Too often the
running time of this maltreated film was irreverently trimmed or stretched to
accommodate commercial breaks or better fit into a predetermined time
slot. With black-and-white films almost
completely banished from the schedules of local television affiliates by 1987, TV Guide disrespectfully dismissed The Vampire Bat as a “Dated, slow-motion
chiller.” That’s an unfair appraisal. But with the MTV generation in the ascendant
and Fangoria gleefully splashing the lurid
and blood-red exploits of such slice-and-dice horror icons as Michael Meyers,
Jason Voorhees, and Freddy Krueger on its covers, it’s somewhat understandable why
the other-worldly atmospherics of The
Vampire Bat were perceived as little more than a celluloid curio – an
antiquated footnote in the annals of classic horror.
Vampire Bat is hardly original. The film was, no doubt, conceived as an
exploitative hybrid of Universal’s Dracula
and Frankenstein twinblockbusters of 1931. (Though not a Universal production, several
scenes of The Vampire Bat were
purportedly shot on that studio’s back lot). Though this Pre-Code film starts as a mostly routine
mystery sprinkled with doses of suggested vampirism, there’s also a mad doctor who
secretly labors in mad devotion to “lift the veil” separating God from man. The doctor has artificially created living,
pulsating tissue requiring human blood for sustenance. Sadly, low rent Majestic Pictures wasn’t able
to engage the services of Universal’s Kenneth Strickfadden. So the mad doctor’s bare-bones laboratory features
none of the splendid electrical gimmickry or flashing circuits that monster
kids love so well.
Though director Frank R. Strayer might not have achieved auteur status, he was no mere
craftsman. He had been involved (most
often in a directorial capacity) in well over one hundred film projects dating
back to the silent era. His greatest
notoriety was likely being the principal helmsman of the wildly popular Blondie series for Columbia in the late
1930s/early 1940s. Though no gloomy
visionary as Universal’s James Whale, Strayer could nonetheless effectively conjure
similarly eerie, ethereal atmospheres to the low-budget mystery and horror film
productions he was assigned. The
scenario and screenplay for The Vampire
Bat was scribed by Edward T. Lowe. Lowe too was a true pioneer of the Hollywood film industry. He had also worked in the silents, hanging on
long enough to contribute scripts to such popular mystery franchises of the
1940s as the Bulldog Drummond, Charlie Chan, and Sherlock Holmes series.
For a modestly-budgeted production without major studio
backing, it must be said the cast of The
Vampire Bat is exceptional. For all
intent and purposes, this is essentially an “actor’s film,” as Strayer –
curiously - offers little on-screen moments of murderous mayhem. Our hero is the affable Melvyn Douglas, a future
two-time Academy winner whose career would endure for more than a half-century. In Ninotchka
(1939), Douglas would famously sway screen siren Greta Garbo from the
schemes of such Soviet puppet masters as Bela Lugosi. Leading lady Fay Wray, who would earn her
bona fides as the big screen’s preeminent “Scream Queen” of the 1930s with a
five film run in 1932-1933 (Doctor X,
The Most Dangerous Game, The Vampire Bat, Mystery of the Wax Museum and, of course, King Kong), finds herself again the target of a mad doctor’s evil
machinations. Sadly, the comely actress
isn’t given much to do in The Vampire Bat
except have a teasing flirtation with the dashing Douglas and await her
inevitable final reel rescue from the mad fiend.
It’s been a very
long time since I last sat down to watch Caltiki - The Immortal Monster. It was
back in a time when like-minded friends would exchange and trade (decidedly dodgy)
VHS copies of obscure monster movies such as this. The term ‘dodgy’ of course
is used in retrospect; at the time they were pure gold dust, a rare opportunity
to watch something which was out of reach to mainstream admirers. You needed to
put in the leg work and research, but becoming part of that community offered
so many rich rewards.
Today, it’s a
society that has basically become redundant. There is simply little demand for
an ‘under the counter’ or private exchange community. Instead we appear to be
rather satisfied, accepting and respectful of the efforts provided by the
speciality labels. To a large degree, the industry has taken over the leg work
and as a result, begun to fulfil our demands. It’s become a stable position and
something that we could only perhaps dream of during the early graduate years
of the blossoming video revolution.
Arrow’s Caltiki -
The Immortal Monster serves as a perfect example and illustrates just how far
we have come. Let’s be clear, Caltiki is a film that could perhaps be described
as a little thin. However, as a slice of enjoyable hokum it could equally be
described as quite perfect.
A team of
archaeologists led by Dr John Fielding (John Merivale, Circus of Horrors)
descends on the ruins of an ancient Mayan city to investigate the mysterious
disappearance of its inhabitants. However, the luckless explorers get more than
they bargained for when their investigation of a sacrificial pool awakens the
monster that dwells beneath its waters – the fearsome and malevolent god
Caltiki was a
project that bought together two giants of Italian cult cinema – Riccardo Freda
(The Vampires, The Horrible Dr Hichcock) and Mario Bava (5 Dolls for an August
Moon, Blood and Black Lace). In consideration of the film’s low budget, the
filmmakers certainly made the most of what they had. The on screen results are
a testament to their combined creative talents. Caltiki is a film that works
best when not examined too closely, it needs to be enjoyed rather than
scrutinised. Yes, there are cheap mistakes and tell-tale signs, such as actors
casting shadows on the glass matte paintings, or a desire to shoot too darkly
in order to cover up the thin production values - but it hardly matters. The
production values actually balance out rather well. This film has some
incredibly gory moments that are in fact executed (by Bava) with some style.
Skulls with bulging eyeballs, half eaten human appendages are among the film’s
many impressive effects. Don’t be fooled, an early Italian film it may be, but
it’s right up there with Britain’s Hammer films in terms of vivid gore. Some
may even maintain that Caltiki’s gore factor exceeded that of any Hammer
production made during the same period, and they may just have an argument. Viewing
Caltiki today, one can only wonder how it would have looked - had the budget stretched
to the luxury of colour film stock… Caltiki also bears an uncanny resemblance
to Hammer’s The Quatermass Experiment (1955). Bava would later express that he
was in fact influenced by the story. Not that it matters a great deal, it was
the era of creeping slime and Bava wasn’t alone, with Hammer following their
own trend with X The Unknown (1956) and Hollywood close behind that with The
Arrow’s Brand new
2K restoration of the film has been produced from the original camera negative
and looks very impressive. The picture perhaps lacks a little in terms of fine
detail which is more likely down to poorer grade film stock – remember this was
a low budget production. There are good deep black tones and the general
picture appears far smoother and nicely balanced in regards to overall
contrast. It couldn’t be further from the grainy old prints that were once
circulated. I should also point out, Arrow have used the Italian print of the
film which contains both English and Italian mono soundtracks (Lossless on the
Blu-ray disc). By picking the original Italian track, you can also access the
newly translated English subtitles.
Caltiki bonus material are two new audio commentaries. Tim Lucas, (author of
Mario Bava: All the Colors of the Dark) provides another excellent commentary.
Interesting and articulate, Lucas proves once again to be the perfect choice
for the job. The second commentary by
Troy Howarth, (author of The Haunted World of Mario Bava and So Deadly, So
Perverse: 50 Years of Italian Giallo Films) is also a good listening
experience. There isn’t really too much different to be heard that hasn’t
already been touched upon by Lucas. There is also very little in terms of
contrasting opinions, both men clearly have a love for Bava which results in
their observations generally coming from the same perspective. (Was there a
need for a second commentary?)
The good news is that Timeless Video is releasing multiple films in one DVD package. The bad news is that one of these releases, although featuring two highly-watchable leading men, presents two stinkers. Love and Bullets is a 1979 Charles Bronson starrer that Roger Ebert appropriately described at the time as "an assemblyline potboiler". The film initially showed promise. Originally titled Love and Bullets, Charlie, the movie had John Huston as its director. However, Huston left after "creative differences" about the concept of the story and its execution on screen. The absurdity of losing a director as esteemed as Huston might have been understandable if the resulting flick wasn't such a mess. However, one suspects that, whatever the conceptual vision Huston had for the movie may have been, it must have been superior to what ultimately emerged. Stuart Rosenberg, the competent director of Cool Hand Luke took over but was unable to create anything more than a sub-par action movie. The plot finds Bronson as a Phoenix cop who is reluctantly sent to Switzerland on an undercover assignment. The local prosecutor has been doggedly trying to convict a local mob kingpin (Rod Steiger) for years. Now it appears that his moll girlfriend (Jill Ireland) might be a viable witness in terms of spilling the beans about his operations. Thus, Steiger has stashed her abroad and is keeping her under constant watch. Bronson's job is to pretend he is also a mob guy and convince Ireland to return with him to Phoenix to testify against her lover. The movie seems to exist for one reason only: the main participants desired a paid working vacation in Switzerland. This concept is nothing new. The Rat Pack squeezed in filming Oceans Eleven almost as an afterthought while they were performing nightly in Las Vegas at the Sands casino. In the twilight of his years, John Ford famously got his stock company together for a jaunt to Hawaii and released the result as a big boxoffice hit called Donovan's Reef, which still must retain the status of being the most expensive home movie ever made.
Love and Bullets is such a lazy effort you have to believe it must have taken a great deal of effort for the cast to meander to the set every day. The film also illustrates the danger of love-struck leading men force-feeding the lady in their lives into virtually every movie they make. Clint Eastwood shoe-horned Sondra Locke into a string of his films in the 1970s and 1980s and while some of them were artistic and commercial successes, I always greeted their next team with a sense of bored inevitability. (Locke is also a prime perpetrator in the creation of the worst movie of Eastwood's career, The Gauntlet.) In this case, Ireland had been Mrs. Bronson for over a decade following her divorce from David McCallum. She was always a competent enough actress but the couple obviously envisioned themselves as a new William Powell/Myrna Loy teaming. Not quite. Bronson is on full automatic pilot, registering almost no emotion. Ireland overplays the role of bubble-headed moll to an embarrassing level, as though she is a character in a sitcom sketch. She is saddled with intentionally laughable fright wigs but the real joke comes when she decides to discard them for her natural hair style, which proves to be even less flattering. Absurdity piles upon absurdity as the film becomes one long, extended chase sequence with Bronson and Ireland squabbling like Ralph and Alice Kramden, if you can imagine The Honeymooners being pursued by assassins. Steiger is in full scenery-chewing mode and an impressive array of supporting actors (Val Avery, Michael V. Gazzo, Henry Silva and Strother Martin) are pretty much wasted along the way. I'm generally undemanding when it comes to the pleasures of watching an unpretentious Charles Bronson action movie but Love and Bullets represents the latter period of his career where he rarely even tried to elevate his films beyond being vehicles for an easy pay check.
Russian Roulette (originally titled Kill Kosygin!) starts out promisingly enough but ultimately ends up being as unsatisfying as Love and Bullets. Produced by Elliott Kastner, an old hand at making good, populist entertainment, the production was shot entirely in Vancouver. George Segal plays a renegade cop (were there any other kind in the 1970s?) who has been suspended from the local police force for various infractions. Suddenly, he is recruited by Canadian secret intelligence to help thwart a reputed plot to assassinate Soviet Premier Kosygin, who is due to arrive in a matter of days for a high profile conference. Segal learns that he is being set up in an elaborate and confusing plot that involves traitorous KGB agents who want to kill their own premier in order to prevent him from initiating an era of detente with the West. Their plan involves kidnapping a local dissident (Val Avery), drugging him and using him as a human bomb who will be dropped on Kosygin's limousine from a helicopter! (I'm not making this up.) Along the way, Segal finds he's being set up as a dupe and is framed for murder. The entire tired affair ends in a race against time with Segal going mano-a-mano with a KGB killer on the roof of a landmark hotel that Kosygin is en route to (the only sequence that affords the slightest hint of suspense). Absurdly, Kosygin's motorcade is permitted to continue racing to the hotel despite the fact that hundreds of people are watching a running gun battle taking place on the roof. The film was directed by Lou Lombardo, who made a name for himself as an editor of great talent after supervising the cutting of The Wild Bunch. As director, he keeps the action flowing but the plot absurdities soon distract from some otherwise interesting angles and performances. The fine supporting cast includes Gordon Jackson, Denholm Elliott, Nigel Stock and Louise Fletcher, but their characters are rather boring. The film also throws in Christina Raines for sex appeal but she comes across as the dullest leading lady in memory, barely registering much emotion even when finding a dead body in her bathroom. (Although most of us would find such a development a bit disturbing, Lombardo cuts to a scene of Segal and Raines enjoying a spot of breakfast tea- while the man's body remains on the bathroom floor.) Segal is always enjoyable to watch and his wiseguy persona is in full bloom here, but the production is amateurish on all levels considering the talent involved. Maybe, as with Love and Bullets, everyone involved just wanted a paid getaway and had a desire to visit Vancouver. (It should be mentioned that director Lombardo was said to be battling drinking problems during production and that the finale of the film - the only truly effective scene- was directed by Anthony Squire, who did not receive screen credit.)
Both transfers are adequate though not overly impressive. Love and Bullets was shot in widescreen but is presented here in full screen ratio. Russian Roulette is presented in letterboxed format. There are no extras.
Back in December 2014
Cinema Retro posted my review of the Columbia Classics’ DVD of “Edge of
Eternity,” (1959) one of director Don Siegel’s early, lesser known films. I gave it high marks—especially for its
location photography in and around the Grand Canyon, and a climax that ended in
a fight on a gondola car suspended 2,500 feet above the canyon floor. I thought
it was one of those little-known hidden gems you come across once in a while—a
movie worth seeing. The video quality of the Columbia DVD wasn’t bad either.
But now the folks at Twilight Time have come out with a limited edition (3,000
copies) Blu-ray of the film that literally blows the older version away.
As noted in my
original review, “Edge of Eternity” was one of two films Siegel made in 1959
that clearly showed he had already begun to master the art of shooting on
location—an art he perfected by the time he made “Dirty Harry” (1971). The
other movie was “The Lineup” , for which Siegel and screenwriter Stirling
Silliphant concocted a brilliant tale with off-beat characters and off-the-wall
dialog, that also gave moviegoers a black and white documentary-like tour of
San Francisco, most of which is no longer there. In “Edge of Eternity,” Siegel
had a less compelling script to work with, but the breathtaking aerial photography
shot in widescreen Cinemascope and Eastman color by the legendary Burnett
Guffey more than made up for it.
The story focuses on
Deputy Sheriff Les Martin’s (Cornell Wilde) efforts to solve a series of
murders that take place in the canyon and the former boom town of Kendon,
Ariz., a place where a fortune in gold lies in an abandoned mine. The mine was
shut down during World War II, due to lack of manpower. It won’t be reopened
until the price of gold rises from $35 an ounce. As weird as it sounds, at the
time the story takes place, the biggest industry in Kendon was the mining of
bat guano from a cave on the far side of the canyon. The cave contained 500,000
tons of the stuff, which was sold as fertilizer. This is all based on
historical fact. The U.S. Bat Guano Company actually operated there until the
late 1950s, and Siegel took advantage of everything the location had to offer,
including “the dancing bucket,” a cable car the company had built, stretching 5,000
feet across the maw of the canyon—the only way to get to the bat cave. The end
credits express the film makers’ gratitude to U.S. Bat Guano for its
cooperation—perhaps the first and only time the movie industry acknowledged how
much it owes to shit, bat or otherwise.
The love interest in
“Edge of Eternity” is Janice Kendon (Victoria Shaw), the daughter of a wealthy
mine owner. Her flaming red hair and the canary yellow 1958 Thunderbird she
drives stand out vividly against the dry desert background, as she flirts with
Deputy Marin and wistfully remembers the days when Kendal was a boom town. She
has a younger brother (Rian Garrick) who drinks and gets in trouble with the
cops all the time. Also on hand is Mickey Shaughnessy playing a garrulous
bartender who dreams of someday leaving Kendon and taking off for Las Vegas.
A second murder
occurs and Deputy Martin starts to feel the heat from his boss (Edgar Buchanan)
and some political enemies in the state capital who want to know why the bodies
are starting to pile up. Martin is vulnerable to attack when it’s revealed he
had some trouble on his last job. When a third corpse turns up Martin stands to
lose his job. Who’s committing the murders and what do they have to do with the
$20 million in gold we’re told lies under the town?
Those are the main
plot questions, but really, who cares? The story isn’t what matters in “Edge of
Eternity.” It’s the real-time, real-place feeling that Siegel manages to put on
film that makes this little-known movie worth watching. Seeing Wilde and
Victoria Shaw playing their parts with the Grand Canyon in the background, you
hardly pay attention to the dialog anyway. All you know is there’s a murder to
be solved, some backstory guilt to be healed by Wilde, and a love story to be
brought to a happy conclusion. Naturally, Siegel pulls it off with his usual
The Twilight Time 1080p
Blu-ray in 2.35:1 aspect ratio makes the Grand Canyon cinematography come alive,
with far more detail than the older DVD. This new release also comes with some
nice extras, including an informative audio commentary by film historians Nick
Redman and C. Courtney Joyner. They provide insights into how this film came to
be made and how Siegel and Guffey shot the climactic scene with the dancing
bucket using two helicopters and a fearless stunt man named Guy Way. It makes
the onscreen action seem even more dangerous. Redman also points out how the
sense of a real place with real people is something totally missing from
today’s films, partly due to the heavy use of CGI.
According to Joyner, “Edge
of Eternity” was originally written as a vehicle for veteran character actor
Jack Elam. The writers thought it was time Elam got his first starring role in
a film. Unfortunately nobody else saw it that way. Siegel, who was a friend of
Elam’s, saw the script sitting on a coffee table in Elam’s house and thought it
would make a pretty good movie. They ended up picking Cornell Wilde for the
part and Elam played a smaller role as the man who operates the bucket. As
Joyner points out, he may not have gotten his big breakthrough, but it’s one of
the few times he didn’t play a bad guy.
The Blu-ray also has
an isolated audio track for Daniele Amfitheatrof’s impressive score and a
booklet containing an essay by Julie Kirgo, which discusses further details of
the film’s location and crew. She also points out how “Edge of Eternity” shows
Siegel “beginning to explore the territory he would dominate in later years:
the life of a decent cop attempting to juggle his crazy mixed-up personal life
with a professional, criminal crisis.”
This Twilight Time
disc is a must-have for any Don Siegel fan, or for anyone who wants to see how “real”
thrillers used to be made.
Mitchum is Martin Brady, an American hired gun living in exile in Mexico in “The
Wonderful Country,” a Blu-ray release from Kino Lorber. While waiting on the
Rio Grande for his contact for a gun smuggling job, Brady decides to escort the
wagon north to Puerto, Texas, and pick up a cache of guns on behalf of his employers, the
Castro brothers. Pancho Gil (Mike Kellin),
another agent of the Castros, arrives to escort the guns they’re buying from a
man named Sterner, but Brady insists on picking up the guns himself. When one
of Brady’s associates reminds him that he’s a wanted man in America, Brady
states, “I want to see the other side of the river.”
in Puerto, a tumble-weed startles Brady’s horse and he breaks a leg in the
fall. He’s aided by Dr. Herbert J. Stovall (Charles McGraw), who sets his leg. Ben
Sterner (John Banner, Sergeant Schultz of “Hogan’s Heroes” fame) receives his
500 silver Pecos in payment for the guns. We learn Brady killed the man who
murdered his father and he believes he’s a wanted man, thus his self-imposed exile
in Mexico.. We later discover this is not the case after the U.S. Army and the
Texas Rangers approach him about working for them to prevent the Castro
brothers from selling guns to the Apaches.
Stark Colton (Gary Merrill) wants Martin to help the U.S. Army stop the Castro
brothers from selling guns to the Apaches. The Castros are a couple of regional
Mexican tyrants, one a governor and the other a general. Texas Ranger Captain
Rucker (Albert Dekker) wants Brady to join the Rangers, all past crimes
forgiven. Meanwhile, Helen Colton (Julie London), Colton’s beautiful wife,
meets up with Brady. Rumors spread about the two of them, resulting in Brady killing a man bullying his friend “Chico” Sterner (Max Slaten Ludwig) followed
by his return to Mexico to confront the Castro brothers.
wonderful country in “The Wonderful Country” may be that place between borders,
cultures and people on the other side of the river or in the next village. It’s
the place one longs for after leaving home, but can never fully return to. More
Mexican than American after his years in exile, Brady wants to return home, but
discovers it isn’t possible. He’s seen by the Castro Brothers as a “gringo” and
by the Americans as some sort of hybrid Mexican not to be trusted.
Pedro Armendáriz is a welcome addition to the
movie as Governor Don Cipriano Castro in a small role as the
political half of the notorious Castro brothers. General Marcos Castro (Víctor Manuel
Mendoza), is the military half and they play Brady against one another holding his
past as collateral for his service until he’s had enough and refuses their
orders. The Castro brothers are discussed throughout the first half of the
movie, but their welcome appearance, especially that of Armendariz, is a bit of
a let down because they have next to nothing to do other than give Brady new
orders and to share their mistrust of each other.
Wonderful Country” boasts many merits, but it has a complicated plot
which is slow paced and filled with underdeveloped dramatic elements and
characters. I wanted to see more of Armendariz, Merrill, Banner and Kellin as
well as a more fully developed relationship between Brady and Helen. We never
fully learn about Helen’s past, why she’s unhappy with her husband or what she
sees in Brady. We also don’t really get a satisfying reason for the gun running
operation between the Castro’s, Sterner and the Apaches other than to have a
gun battle between the U.S. Cavalry and the Apaches as well as several cross
border visits for Brady and other members of the cast. Baseball great Leroy
“Satchel” Paige has a small role as Army Sergeant Tobe Sutton and Jack Oakie
makes an appearance as Travis Hyte.
film is based on the novel by Tom Lea, who also has a cameo as the barber who
gives Mitchum a shave. The 1959 United Artists release was directed by Academy
Award winning editor Robert Parrish (He also co-directed “Casino Royale” (1967) and directed “Fire Down Below,” “Journey to the Far Side of the Sun,” “Lucy Gallant, “The
Purple Plain,” “Saddle in the Wind” and more
than a dozen other movies). Parrish had a distinguished career as editor/actor/director. He also wrote the best selling 1988
autobiographies “Growing Up In Hollywood” and “Hollywood Doesn’t Live Here
Anymore” where he chronicles his experiences as a child actor in Charlie Chaplin and
Our Gang comedies to his WWII service, relationships with many classic
Hollywood greats and his editing/directing career.
by Mitchum’s production company, D.R.M. Productions with Mitchum credited as
executive producer, there’s also a great score by Alex North. In the end, the
sum totals of all those other interesting elements do not add up to a cohesive
movie. it needs a tighter plot and and even the 98 minute running time seems a bit padded.. The Kino Lorber Blu-ray looks and
sounds terrific, preserving the beautifully filmed widescreen image. The disc
includes the theatrical trailer for this and two other Mitchum releases as the
only extras. "The Wonderful Country" is a flawed but entertaining film and the Blu-ray is a welcome addition for fans of Mitchum and traditional Westerns.
have many impressive things to show you in my citadel!”
intones the looming hologram of maniacal would-be galactic conqueror Omus (Jack
Palance) to heroic Jason Caball (Nicholas Campbell) and Kim (Ann-Marie Martin)
after they have landed on the planet Delta Three. Apparently, a screening of
the film that this scene is unfolding in, 1978's “The Shape Of Things To Come,”
is not on the agenda. Coming in the midst of the first big “Star Wars”-knockoff
boom, this Canadian low-budget effort may have its fans, but “impressive” is
probably not a word to describe the film. Even viewing it for the cheese
factor, it is still a rather moldy and unappetizing cinematic confection.
the far future, humanity has colonized the moon to escape a war-ravaged Earth.
Their peaceful existence comes into jeopardy when Delta Three, their only
source of an anti-radiation medicine, is taken over by the tyrannical Omus and
his army of robots. Omus is looking to extend the reach of his rule to the moon
and is planning on attacking the lunar domed cities with a fleet of robot run
spacecraft. In an attempt to thwart the invasion before it starts, Dr. John
Caball (Barry Morse), his son Jason (Campbell), his friend Kim (Martin),and
teleporting robot Sparks head to Delta Three. Once there, they hook up with a
group of rebels led by Delta Three's deposed governor who are planning an
assault against Omus's citadel in an attempt to win back their world.
anyone with a passing familiarity of the film's alleged source material, any
similarity between “The Shape of Things To Come” and H.G. Wells' novel (or the
1936 film directed by William Cameron Menzies for that matter) is strictly
coincidental. What might not be so coincidental are the rebels led by a strong
woman character, sassy robots, imperiled planets and an aspiration to high
adventure that firmly put this movie as firmly trying to hitch a ride on the
then-current “Star Wars” wave.
that is not to say that the screenplay is not without its own ambitions. It
wants to give us the spectacle of a desperate group of rebels fighting off a
rampaging army of killer robots or the exotic but deadly perils of space
travels. Unfortunately, its ambitions far outweigh the talent or resources
available to realize them. Director George McCowan has neither the eye or the
budget to bring any life to the material on the screen. It isn't as if his crew
didn't try. The design and build of the movie's spacecraft models is
particularly nice. Unfortunately, it appears as if the budget ran out when it
came time to paint and light them. The rest of the film's visual aesthetic does
not fare much better. The lighting is flat and the best that can be said about
the cinematography is that the camera is pointed at the actors. At times when the film sobers enough to
realize it doesn't have the budget to visualize what it wants to it commits the
same cardinal sin that Robert Wise's “Star Trek: The Next Generation” would
commit a few months later and resorts to showing its cast stare at a screen and
commenting on something that is never actually shown to the audience. Those in
search of any kind of visual flair will need to look elsewhere.
his part, Nicholas Campbell certainly seems to understand exactly what movie he
has been a part of and is candid about his experiences in one of the two
interviews included as special features on Blue Underground's recent Blu-ray
release of the film. It is a shame that an interview with Campbell's co-star
Ann-Marie Martin couldn't have been secured, as it would have been interesting
to see her feelings on the film as someone who narrowly lost out landing the
part of Princess Leia in “Star Wars” just a few years earlier. The other
interview that is included on the disc is with composer Paul Hoffert who seems
to have had more enjoyable experience, given the freedom he had to experiment a
bit with combining traditional orchestrations with newer electronic
instrumentation. A French trailer (possibly for the Quebec market?), a
television commercial and poster, picture and press book galleries round out
the disc's extras.
a good portion of my high school years devouring the paperback reprints of the
Doc Savage pulp novels of the 1930s and '40s, the George Pal-produced “Doc
Savage: The Man Of Bronze,” is a bit of a bitter pill to swallow. The film gets
just enough right to show tantalizing promise only to snatch that away with
what it gets wrong.
back to his Manhattan skyscraper headquarters from his arctic retreat where he
was using the isolation to perform some experiments, scientist and adventurer
Clark “Doc” Savage Jr. meets with his five closest friends and adventuring
companions to be told that his father has died while in the small South
American country of Hildago. However, the reunion between Doc and his aides –
known as the Fabulous Five – is interrupted by an assassination attempt carried
out by a native from a South American tribe Doc can't identify. Surmising that
his father's death was not from natural causes, the group head to Hidalgo to
investigate. There they encounter the villainous Captain Seas (Paul Wexler),
who with government functionary Don Rubio Gorro (Bob Corso), is trying to steal
land that was granted to Doc's father by the leaders of the long lost Mayan
tribe, the Quetzamal. Doc, his aides and Mona, Don Rubio Gorro's truehearted
assistant, head inland to the Quetzamal's hidden village to stop Seas and
Gorro's attempt to steal the gold of the Quetzamal for themselves.
broad strokes, the script captures the globetrotting nature of many of the
early Doc pulp stories published by Street & Smith between 1933 and 1949.
The film's overall plot is taken directly from the first first Doc Savage yarn
published in March 1933, also titled “The Man Of Bronze.” But readers of the
old pulps will perhaps recognize that
writer Joe Morhaim and Pal have grafted onto the screenplay some elements from
a couple of other Savage stories, most notably “The Green Death” (November
1938), “The Mystic Mullah” (January 1935) and “Mystery Under The Sea” (February
film does sport a wonderful cast. Ron Ely is as probably as close to the pulps'
description of Doc Savage as Hollywood is likely to get, the visual of him
standing on the running-board of a touring car as it races through the streets
of Manhattan (or more accurately, Warner Brothers' New York City backlot) is an
image brought to life directly out of the pulps. And Ely plays the role with a
sincerity that at times feels as if it goes against the grain of the campy tone
director Michael Anderson is attempting. The casting for Doc's five aides are
all equally physically spot on. Those who did their teen years in the 1980s
will probably get a kick out of seeing Paul Gleason as one of Doc's aides a
full decade before he was tormenting teens at Saturday detention in “The
Breakfast Club.” Pam Hemsley as Mona appears much more wholesome here than she
would just a few years later as space vamp Princess Ardala on NBC's “Buck
Rogers In The 25th Century.” Horror fans may enjoy a rather atypical
appearance from future “The Hills Have Eyes” star Michael Berryman.
certainly lavished some money on the production, at least in spots. There is
some great location photography for both Doc's approach to his Fortress of
Solitude in the beginning of the film and when Doc and his aides are trekking
across South America to the Valley of the Vanished. Less convincing is the
set-bound look of the lost Quetzamal tribe's lost valley. (See the latest issue
of CinemaRetro for more on the making of the film.)
why did “Doc Savage: The Man Of Bronze,” flop so hard when released? Perhaps it
was the wrong movie at the wrong time. The fall of Saigon and the end of the
Vietnam War was just a little over a month in the past when the film hit
theaters in June of 1975. The country was in a malaise and a movie wasn't going
to snap it out of its funk until “Star Wars” comes along in another two years.
It may also have been overshadowed by the release of “Jaws” the same month,
which sapped much of the oxygen out of the adventure film market To a cynical and war-weary nation, the film's
simplistic pre-Depression era idea of good guys and bad guys perhaps was seen
as naive, if not downright laughable. Moments when the film dips into camp –
such as the Doc's apparent need to slap his stylized logo on all his equipment
or Don Rubio Gorro's weird diaper and giant crib fetish – probably felt like a
way too late attempt to cash in on the campy Adam West “Batman” TV series which
had been off the air for years by this
time. Ultimately, tone is the biggest
thing that works against the film and it should be interesting to see how
writer/director Shane Black will handle it if his planned Doc Savage movie ever
gets out of development.
Archive’s new Blu-ray 1080p transfer from the film's original inter-positive does a
good job showcasing the cinematography of Fred J. Koenekamp , who was fresh off
his Academy Award-winning work on “The Towering Inferno.” The only extra
feature on the disc is a trailer, which shows some definite wear around the
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If it's remembered at all, the 1970 WWII comedy Which Way to the Front? is generally attributed as being the film that ended Jerry Lewis' career as a leading man - at least for quite some time. During the 1950s, Lewis' partnership with Dean Martin made them the kind of pop culture idols that would only be rivaled by The Beatles and Michael Jackson. If that sounds absurd, search out newsreel footage of the thousands of people that stormed their hotel in Times Square, causing police to close the vicinity as Dean and Jerry merrily tossed autographed photos to the crowd below. When Martin left the act, thus bringing about one of the longest feuds in show biz history, both men went on to enjoy a successful careers on their own. Martin's friendship with Frank Sinatra did much to keep him in the public eye until he enjoyed his own fanatically loyal following. Lewis became a prolific producer and director, one of the first movie stars to successfully multi-task in front and behind the cameras. Others had given it a try only to give up after a film or two. Lewis persevered and earned respect for his knowledge of filmmaking techniques even as he enjoyed his ranking among the top boxoffice attractions in the world.
By the late 1960s, however, Lewis' brand of innocent slapstick humor had fallen victim to the new freedoms in the cinema. Suddenly he began to look like a quaint throwback to a much earlier era, even though only a few short years had transpired since the pinnacle of his career. His modest romantic comedies couldn't compete with Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice frolicking in the same bed. Lewis was dismayed by this trend and tried to fight back by opening a national chain of Jerry Lewis Cinema franchises that would be allowed to play only family-oriented films. His timing couldn't have been worse. The lack of appropriate fare not only sank the theater chain but also took down such iconic family-themed theaters as Radio City Music Hall. (Ironically, audiences couldn't be persuaded to pay $5 to see a new movie plus a magnificent stage show starring the Rockettes. Today, they line up in droves and pay $100 just to see the stage show.) Lewis gamely fought on but his films became afterthoughts to his once loyal public. He remained very popular in Vegas nightclubs and his annual Muscular Dystrophy Telethon continued to raise millions for charity.
Lewis' 1970 Warner Brothers comedy Which Way to the Front? has been released on DVD by the Warner Archive. The film is an curiosity in the funnyman's career in that, unlike his previous films, there is literally nothing funny about the movie at all. Even the least of Lewis' other works had a few scenes that would make his detractors chuckle, but this misguided farce seems to have been cobbled together at the last minute just to satisfy a contractual obligation. Lewis plays Brendan Byers III, "the world's richest man." Byers is bored with life and is surrounded by sniveling yes men who cater to his every whim. Thus they perceive a crisis when he gets a draft notice. That in itself is the first absurdity as Lewis was in his mid-40s at the time and would not have been of draft age. Nevertheless, Byers surprises his employees by rejecting their offers to find ways to get him out of military service. He has found his purpose in life: to fight for the American way of life. His joy is short-lived when he is rejected for military service. Crushed and humiliated, he befriends three other men (Jan Murray, Steve Franken, Dack Rambo) who were also classified as unfit for the army. The screenplay is so sloppy that it never explains why these able-bodied men were deemed unable to serve. Each one of his new friends has their own compelling personal crisis that makes it mandatory that they get out of the country. Byers comes up with a novel idea: if the U.S. Army doesn't want them, he'll use his unlimited wealth to create his own army.
Fox has reissued its original DVD release of the 1968 western "Bandolero!" as a region-free title in its made-on-demand "Cinema Archives" line. The film is top-notch entertainment on all levels- the kind of movie that was considered routine in in its day but which can be more appreciated today. The story opens with a bungled bank robbery carried out by Dee Bishop (Dean Martin) and his motley gang. In the course of the robbery two innocent people are killed including a local businessman and land baron, Stoner (Jock Mahoney). The gang is captured by Sheriff July Johnson (George Kennedy) and his deputy Roscoe Bookbinder (Andrew Prine) and are sentenced to be hanged. Meanwhile Dee's older brother Mace (James Stewart), a rogue himself, gets wind of the situation and waylays the eccentric hangman while he is enroute to carry out the execution. By assuming the man's identity he is able to afford Mace and his gang the opportunity to cheat death at the last minute. When they flee the town they take along an "insurance policy"- Stoner's vivacious young widow Maria (Raquel Welch) who they kidnap along the way. This opening section of the film is especially entertaining, mixing genuine suspense with some light-hearted moments such as Mace calmly robbing the bank when all the men ride off in a posse to chase down the would-be bank robbers. Mace and Dee reunite on the trail and the gang crosses the Rio Grande into Mexico- with July and a posse wiling to violate international law by chasing after them in hot pursuit. Much of the film is rather talky by western standards but the script by James Lee Barrett makes the most of these campfire conversations by fleshing out the supporting characters. Dee's outlaw gang makes characters from a Peckinpah movie look like boy scouts. Among them is an aging outlaw, Pop Cheney (Will Geer), a well-spoken but disloyal, greedy man who is overly protective of his somewhat shy son, Joe (Tom Heaton). The presence of Maria predictably results in numerous gang members attempting to molest her but their efforts are thwarted by Dee, who always comes to her rescue. Before long, Maria is making goo-goo eyes at her protector, conveniently forgetting he is also the man who slew her innocent husband. (The script tries to get around this by explaining that while her husband was a decent man who treated her well, she could never get over the fact that he literally bought her as a teenager from her impoverished family). The story also puts some meat on the bone in terms of Dee and Mace's somewhat fractured relationship. Both of them have been saddle tramps but Mace informs Dee that his reputation as a notorious outlaw allowed their mother, who Dee neglected, to go to her grave with a broken heart. Every time the script might become bogged down in these maudlin aspects of the characters, a good dose of humor is injected,
The story proper kicks in mid-way through the film when the gang finds itself en route to a remote town in the Mexican desert that mandates that they cross a hellish landscape populated by bandoleros, particularly vicious bandits who appear seemingly out of nowhere and pick off individuals one-by-one in a "Lost Patrol"-like scenario. July and his gang are also subject to the eerie murders as stragglers in the posse become victims. When Dee and his gang finally arrive at the town they find it deserted, as the population has fled the marauding bandoleros. Dee proposes to Maria and they agree to start a new life ranching with Mace in Montana- but their joy is short-lived when July and his posse sneak into town and arrest them. Before everyone can saddle up to return to the USA, the town is invaded by an army of bandoleros, setting in motion a truly exciting finale. The entire enterprise is directed by Andrew V. McLaglen, an old hand with horse operas and often memorable action flicks such as "Chisum", "The Wild Geese" and "The Sea Wolves". "Bandolero!" is one of his best achievements and he inspires fine performances by all. Martin plays it unusually straight and in a subdued manner, a rare instance during this era of him playing a realistic, multi-dimensional character. Stewart looks like he's having the time of his life and Welch, then still a contract player for Fox, acquits herself very well indeed among these seasoned pros. The supporting cast is excellent with Kennedy and Prine in top form and familiar faces such as Will Geer, Denver Pyle, Dub Taylor, Perry Lopez and Harry Carey Jr. popping up in brief appearances. There is also some excellent cinematography by William Clothier and a typically fine score by Jerry Goldsmith. "Bandolero!" is one of the best westerns released during this era.
The Fox made-on-demand titles are generally devoid of bonus materials but they have wisely ported over additional content that was found on the initial DVD release. These include a trailer for the film as well as a Spanish language trailer and a gallery of very welcome trailers for other Fox Raquel Welch titles. The transfer is excellent but Fox didn't catch a blooper on the main menu which depicts Stewart, Welch and- wait for it- what appears to be an image of Stuart Whitman! Apparently some Mr. Magoo-type who designed the menu eons ago couldn't tell the difference between Dean Martin and Stuart Whitman, who starred in both "The Comancheros" and "Rio Conchos" for Fox. A minor gaffe on an otherwise fine release.
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Catlow is a fun MGM Western from 1971 with broad comedic overtones in addition to some fairly brutal violence. The film was directed by Sam Wanamaker and produced by Euan Lloyd, an old hand at bringing good action movies to the big screen (i.e. Shalako, The Wild Geese). The film is based on the novel by Louis L'Amour. Yul Brynner plays the titular hero, a charismatic, free spirit who travels with an entourage of vagabond cowboys and sex-crazed hot number, Rosita, played by Daliah Lavi, who is cast against type as a wild, unsophisticated character. The somewhat meandering plot has Catlow accused, perhaps erroneously, of stealing cattle. He is pursued half-heartedly by Marshall Cowan (Richard Crenna), an old army buddy who spends more time socializing with Catlow than making any real attempt to bring him back to a kangaroo trial. The scenes of the two men engaging in endless attempts to outwit each other are quite amusing. Leonard Nimoy's bounty hunter Miller poses a more realistic threat, relentlessly hunting Catlow and his men down to the wilds of Mexico where everyone ends up facing both the army and Apaches.
There are some solid, suspenseful action sequences such as when Cowan finds himself wounded and surrounded by Indians. There is also a neat double cross that results in Catlow and his men having their guns stolen just as they are about to face off with the Apaches. The inspired supporting cast includes Jeff Corey as the requisite sidekick that was played by Walter Brennan and Gabby Hayes in earlier Westerns. Jo Ann Pflug provides some glamour as a sexy upper class seniorita. The chemistry between Brynner and Crenna is the main pleasure of the film but Nimoy scores well in his limited role as a ruthless villain- and the site of him bare-assed fighting with Brynner beside a bathtub is one for the books.
In the mid 1960s Amicus Productions emerged as a Hammer Films wanna-be. The studio aped the Hammer horror films and even occasionally encroached on Hammer by "stealing" their two biggest stars, Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing. The first Amicus hit was "Dr. Terror's House of Horrors", released in 1965 and top-lining Lee and Cushing. The format of various horror tales linked by an anthology format proved to be so successful that Amicus would repeat the formula over the next decade in films such as "Tales from the Crypt", "Vault of Horror" and "The House That Dripped Blood". The studio cranked out plenty of other horror flicks and by the mid-to-late 1970s Amicus was producing better fare than Hammer, which had made the mistake of increasingly concentrating on blood and gore and tits and ass to the detriment of the overall productions. Occasionally-indeed, very rarely- Amicus would branch out from the horror genre and produce other fare. (i.e. the Bond-inspired "Danger Route" and the social drama "Thank You All Very Much") but the studio was out of its element when it came to producing non-horror flicks. A particularly inspired offbeat entry in the Amicus canon was the 1970 production "The Mind of Mr. Soames", based on a novel by Charles Eric Maine. The intriguing premise finds John Soames (Terence Stamp) a 30 year-old man who has been in a coma since birth. He has been studiously tended to by the staff at a medical institution in the British countryside where a round-the-clock team sees to it that he is properly nourished and that his limbs are exercised to prevent atrophy. Soames apparently is an orphan with no living relatives so he is in complete custody of the medical community, which realizes he represents a potentially important opportunity for scientific study- if he can be awakened. That possibility comes to pass when an American, Dr. Bergen (Robert Vaughn) arrives at the clinic possessing what he feels is a successful method of performing an operation that will bring Soames "to life". The operation is surprisingly simple and bares fruit when, hours later, Soames begins to open his eyes and make sounds.The staff realize this is a medical first: Soames will come into the world as a grown man but with the mind and instincts of a baby.
Soames' primary care in the post-operation period is left to Dr. Maitland (Nigel Davenport), who has constructed a rigid schedule to advance Soames' intellect and maturity as quickly as possible. Initially, Maitland's plans pay off and Soames responds favorably to the new world he is discovering. However, over time, as his intellect reaches that of a small child, he begins to harbor resentment towards Maitland for his "all stick and no carrot" approach to learning. Dr. Bergen tries to impress on Maitland the importance of allowing Soames to have some levity in his life and the opportunity to learn at his own pace. Ultimately, Bergen allows Soames outside to enjoy the fresh air and observe nature first hand on the clinic's lush grounds. Soames is ecstatic but his joy is short-lived when an outraged Dr. Maitland has him forcibly taken back into the institute. Soames ultimately rebels and makes a violent escape into a world he is ill-equipped to understand. He has the maturity and knowledge of a five or six year old boy but knows that he prefers freedom to incarceration. As a massive manhunt for Soames goes into overdrive, the film traces his abilities to elude his pursuers as he manages to travel considerable distance with the help of well-intentioned strangers who don't realize who he is. Soames is ultimately struck by a car driven by a couple on a remote country road. Because the lout of a husband was drunk at the time, they choose to nurse him back to health in their own home. The wife soon realizes who he is and takes pity on him- but when Soames hear's approaching police cars he bolts, thus setting in motion a suspenseful and emotionally wrenching climax.
"The Mind of Mr. Soames" is unlike any other Amicus feature. It isn't a horror film nor a science fiction story and the plot device of a man having been in a coma for his entire life is presented as a totally viable medical possibility. Although there are moments of tension and suspense, this is basically a mature, psychological drama thanks to the intelligent screenplay John Hale and Edward Simpson and the equally impressive, low-key direction of Alan Cooke, who refrains from overplaying the more sensational aspects of the story. Stamp is outstanding in what may have been the most challenging role of his career and he receives excellent support from Robert Vaughn (sporting the beard he grew for his next film, the remake of "Julius Caesar") and Nigel Davenport. Refreshingly, there are no villains in the film. Both doctors have vastly different theories and approaches to treating Soames but they both want what is best for him. The only unsympathetic character is a hipster TV producer and host played by Christian Roberts who seeks to exploit the situation by filming and telecasting Soames' progress as though it were a daily soap opera.
Christian Roberts, Vickery Turner and Robert Vaughn.
Amicus had a potential winner with this movie but it punted when it came to the advertising campaign by implying it was a horror film. "The mind of a baby, the strength of a madman!" shouted the trailers and the print ads screamed "CAN THIS BABY KILL?" alongside an absurd image of Stamp locked inside an infant's crib. In fact, Soames does pose a danger to others and himself simply because he doesn't realize the implications of his own strength- but he is presented sympathetically in much the same way as the monster in the original "Frankenstein". Perhaps because of the botched marketing campaign, the film came and went quickly. In some major U.S. cities it was relegated to a few art houses before it disappeared. In fact the art house circuit was where it belonged but the ad campaign isolated upper crust viewers who favored films by Bergman and Fellini but balked when the saw the over-the-top elements of the ads.
Sony has released the film as a region-free made-to-order DVD and it boasts a very fine transfer but sadly no bonus extras. Still the company deserves credit for making this little-seen gem finally available on home video where its many attributes can finally be enjoyed by a wider audience.
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There have been two
films based on the story of Hugh Glass, the mountain man who in 1823 was
attacked by a grizzly bear and left for dead in the territory now known as
South Dakota. “The Revenant” (2015), starring Leonardo DiCaprio, is the more
recent and better known. It won three Oscars, including best actor, best
director (Alejandro G. Iñárritu), and best cinematography (Emmanuel Lubezki). It
was hailed as a cinematic tour de force because of its on-location photography
and Iñárritu’s innovative filmmaking techniques, not to mention DiCaprio’s endurance-test
of a performance. In some ways, however, the film is so over the top in style
and execution that the director’s techniques tend to overshadow the substance
of the story. It also fictionalizes the true events it is based on in a way
that makes it more melodramatic than it needed to be. Even the New York Times
noted its “Pearls of Pauline” approach to storytelling.
A more satisfying and
truthful telling of the Glass saga can be found in the first filmed version—the
sadly overlooked and highly underrated “Man in the Wilderness” (1971) starring
Richard Harris. Directed by Richard C. Sarafian and scripted by Jack DeWitt (who
also wrote the “Man Called Horse” movies), “Wilderness” tells its story simply,
directly, and far more powerfully. It’s now available from Warner Archive in
Blu-Ray, and it’s time this movie got a second look.
The basic idea in the
two films is the same. Glass, one of the trappers in the Captain Andrew Henry
expedition, is attacked by a grizzly and so badly injured that no one expects
him to live. Henry orders two men to stay with him until he expires. It is at
this early point in the plot that the two films diverge. Iñárritu’s film
depicts one of the men left behind, John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy) as a completely
despicable character—almost an Oil Can Harry villain. He hates Glass and Hawk, the
half-breed son he had by an Indian squaw, who serves as the hunting party’s
scout. He kills Hawk, who catches him trying to murder Glass and tells Bridger,
the other man left behind, that he saw some Arikara Indians coming and
frightens him into abandoning Glass. The bulk of the film follows Glass as he
overcomes his wounds and the elements, and faces a final showdown with his nemesis.
While this makes an exciting story, it’s not entirely in accordance with the
facts, and forces the film to have a somewhat clichéd ending.
Sarafian’s version of
the story takes a different, more realistic approach. Rather than to portray
the two men left behind to watch over Glass (renamed Zach Bass in this version)
as evil incarnate, he makes Captain Henry the villain-- although villain is too
melodramatic a word. Played by Hollywood legend John Huston as a cross between
Ahab and an Old Testament God-figure, Henry is a harsh authoritarian without an
ounce of compassion. When we first see him, in a scene that calls
“Fitzcarraldo” (1982) to mind, he is standing on the deck of a boat being
hauled by 22 mules overland to the Missouri River. The white-bearded captain
looks down at the men riding alongside on horseback as if he were the Almighty
Himself, and he runs the expedition as if he were. When he learns Bass is injured, he not only
orders the party to leave him behind, he tells Fogarty (Percy Herbert playing a
fictionalized version of Fitzgerald) and Lowrie (Dennis Waterman) to stay with
him until morning and kill him if he is still alive by then. He tells them to
say some words over him. “Say ‘he fought life all his life,’” he instructs them.
“`Now his fight is with you, God.’ I reckon that’s where he figured it always
The captain had good
reason to know of Bass’s defiant attitude toward religion. He raised Bass from
boyhood after finding him stowed away on his ship, which makes his decision to
leave him behind even more inhuman. In a
series of flashbacks that ripple through Bass’s mind as he recovers from his
wounds and regains his strength, we learn what turned young Zack Bass against God
and religion. When his mother died of cholera on board a ship and is about to
be buried at sea, he’s told by a priest that cholera is God’s punishment for
sin and that her death “was God’s will.” When he’s told he must attend the
funeral, young Zachary locks the door to his cabin and refuses to go on deck. Later
in a classroom a stern, bearded minister grills the class on the question of
who made man and why. When Bass refuses to answer the question, the minister
smacks his hands with a wooden pointer over and over, shouting, “God made man,
Bass. God made man.” But the boy remains stubbornly silent.
In another flashback,
Bass’s young pregnant wife, tells him, “The Kingdom of Heaven is within you.
And in the earth, and the sea. Have you never seen it? Never felt it?” He says,
“No.” He says he doesn’t have much in common with God. He speaks to the unborn
child in his wife’s womb, apologizing that he won’t be there when he’s born and
for bringing him into a world that is “hell on earth.” The wilderness he
struggles to survive in is as much spiritual as it is material.
The theme of spiritual
revitalization was a subject that screenwriter Jack De Witt focused on more
than once in his writing. His scripts for the “A Man Called Horse,” films,
which also starred Richard Harris, and especially “The Return of a Man Called
Horse,” were about a man, and a people, who had lost their spiritual identity.
In “Return” Captain John Morgan finds life in England stultifying after having
lived in America with the Yellow Hand Sioux. He returns and finds the tribe
decimated and demoralized after white trappers took their land and killed many
of their people. It is only when Morgan and the tribe’s survivors participate
in the grueling Sun Dance Ceremony, that they regain their identity and the
spirit to fight again.
In “Wilderness” a subtler
transformation occurs, when Bass, alone and on the trail of the expedition that
left him behind, encounters a small group of “Rickaree’s” (the name the
trappers called the Arikara) in a forest. He hides behind a tree as a squaw
dismounts near him and squats in childbirth. Seeing the mother and the newborn infant,
he cannot help but think of the son he never met, and it’s as though for a
moment he gets a glimpse of the “heaven within” that his wife spoke of. It’s
the story’s turning point.
“Man in the
Wilderness” is an uncompromising film. Just as it refuses to paint its
characters as black and white stereotypes, it also provides no easy answers to
the questions it poses. Sarafian and DeWitt don’t sugar coat anything. Life in
the wild is presented as a constant battle for survival. Starving, Bass finds a
bison being devoured by wolves. Unable to walk, he crawls on hands and knees,
beats the wolves off with a stick, and takes a chunk of bloody raw meat and
eats it. There’s’ no respite from the
harshness of frontier life. Even when a bird flies overhead, Bass looks up at
the blue sky only to see a hawk pouncing down on it. The Arikaras are depicted
as killers, and any encounter with them will cost a white man his life. And yet
when they find Bass unconscious and near death, they leave him alone, because
of an amulet left on his body by the expedition’s Indian guide. And later when
Bass is well and they meet again, the Arikara chief (Henry Wilcoxon) evinces
admiration and a liking of the fur trapper’s courage and ability to survive.
Warner Archive has
done a good job transferring “Man in the Wilderness to a 1080 p Blu-Ray. It was
filmed in the mountains of Spain and Arizona by Gerry Fisher, and his cinematography
is shown on the disc to full advantage. The film in presented in wide screen
2.41:1 aspect ratio with DTS HD Master Audio 2.0 Mono. The picture quality is
very good, but it’s too bad there wasn’t a stereo soundtrack available.
Presumably. like a lot of films in the 70s, it was shot in mono. The sound is
definitely lacking in bass and the high frequencies are a bit shrill—the only drawback
to an otherwise very good Blu-Ray. A theatrical trailer is the only extra.
Bottom line: “Man in
the Wilderness” is a definite must-have. One of the rare things that come out
of Hollywood only occasionally—a film that tries to tell it like it is.
“One Million Years B.C.” (1966)
with Raquel Welch was sufficiently profitable for Hammer Films that producer
Aida Young and studio executive Anthony Hinds were incentivized to create a
sequel.In final analysis, “When
Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth” (1970) seems more a reboot of the earlier movie than
a sequel to it.Victoria Vetri, who had
been Playboy’s Playmate of the Year in 1968 as “Angela Dorian,” succeeded Welch
as the female lead, and Jim Danforth took over the FX role from the otherwise
occupied Ray Harryhausen, with assistance from David Allen and others.Filming began in October 1968 but post-production
FX work delayed final completion and release for two years, probably sinking
any publicity value from Vetri’s Playmate fame.The picture opened in the U.K. in October 1970, in western Europe in
January 1971, and Stateside in March 1971 from Warner Brothers-Seven Arts.The European print ran 100 minutes and
included a few frames of fleeting nudity and implied sex.The skin was negligible by today’s
premium-cable standards but apparently deemed unfit for small-town moviegoers
in the Nixon era.Warner-Seven Arts
deleted the nudity from the U.S. edit and secured a “G” rating for the kiddie
audience.The film had a brief life in
drive-ins, but wider exposure followed in syndicated TV airings in the ‘70s and
The first home-video releases of
“When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth” were simultaneous editions from Warner Home
Video in 1991, in formats now as extinct as the dinosaurs themselves, VHS and
Laser Disc. Both products were struck
from the rated-G print. I paid the
$59.95 asking price for the VHS cassette and probably would have sprung for the
Laser Disc too, had I owned a player at the time. I was glad to have the movie in a form that I
could watch at leisure in those days before streaming video and Netflix, when
local video stores rarely carried such second-tier titles for rental. A DVD edition appeared in 2008 as a two-fer
with Hammer’s “Moon Zero Two,” retailed through Best Buy. The DVD created a brief stir because the
unrated European print had been used as the source, supposedly by accident,
even though the case carried the “G” rating. The new Blu-ray from Warner Archive Collection also is sourced from the
European print, but this time the case warns (or teases, depending on your
perspective) that it is the “International Theatrical release version which
The opening credits attributed the
“screen treatment” for the film to critically acclaimed writer J.G. Ballard,
misspelled onscreen as “J.B. Ballard,” and the screenplay to British science
fiction, horror, and thriller veteran Val Guest, who also directed. The respective accounts of Ballard and Guest
are sketchy and inconsistent as to what each writer contributed to the final
product. Such as it is, the story isn’t
bad -- even in 1971, you didn’t go to a movie titled “When Dinosaurs Ruled the
Earth” expecting dramatic complexity -- although it mostly serves to fill time
between the appearances of Danforth’s gorgeous stop-motion dinosaurs.
Set of three door panels displayed in theaters during theatrical release.
Sanna (Vetri) is one of six young
blonde maidens chosen by the fanatical chief of the prehistoric Mountain tribe,
Kingsor (Patrick Allen), as human sacrifices to appease the tribal sun god for
recent celestial unrest. Little do the
primitive tribesmen know, but the tremors on earth and in heaven that scare
them are caused by the formation of the Moon separating from Earth, not by
divine displeasure. Sanna escapes in a
sudden windstorm, falls into the sea, and is rescued by Tara (Robin Hawdon), a
young fisherman from the neighboring Shore tribe. At the Shore village, where tribespeople are
trying to tie down an unruly plesiosaur, Tara’s girlfriend Ayak (Imogen
Hassell) becomes jealous of Sanna, who flees again when Kingsor comes to
reclaim her. Chases, escapes, and more
dinosaurs ensue, including a charming if biologically unlikely subplot in which
a mama dinosaur and her baby welcome Sanna into their family after mistaking
her for a newly hatched sibling. Where
the earlier movie closed with a catastrophic volcano eruption, Guest’s ends
with the tide receding an unnatural distance, leaving a bleak mud flat from
which a giant crab emerges (the surrealistic mud flat seems to have been
Ballard’s idea), and then roaring back again in a biblical deluge generated by
the newly condensed Moon. In another
charming touch, a raft carrying Sanna, Tara, and their friends Ulido (Magda
Konopka) and Khaki (Drewe Henley) washes gently to rest on a matte-painting
cliff in the final scene after the flood subsides and dawn breaks.
Many fans seem to feel that the
casting of “When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth” is inferior to the earlier movie’s,
but Vetri holds her own in the lead. The
script gives her more to do than “One Million Years B.C.” demanded of Welch,
and she delivers. She has screen
presence and she looks great in skimpy
togs that accentuate her impressive physical attributes. Hammer clearly understood that sexy outfits
sell tickets at the box office, even in movies whittled down to a
family-friendly rating. It’s a strategy
still employed today by moviemakers, more than forty-five years later: case in
point, the ads for the new PG-13 action movie “Ghost in the Shell,” which place
Scarlett Johansson’s generous curves in a skin-tight body stocking front and
center. Hawdon, Allen, and Hassell
support Vetri with plucky, straight-faced performances. That may be the most anyone can ask of actors
who are required by the script to strip down to their skivvies and talk in
made-up Stone Age language. Fans of
modern CGI may disagree, and probably will, but the dinosaurs designed and
animated by Danforth and his associates have more heft and personality than
anything in the recent, expensive blockbusters “Kong: Skull Island” (2017) and
“Jurassic World” (2015). The music by
Mario Nascimbene, the maestro of biblical and Viking soundtracks, adds a
measure of classic-cinema panache lacking in today’s mostly by-the-numbers
action and fantasy scores.
The Warner Archive Collection Blu-ray is welcome as
the latest iteration of “When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth” for the home
market. The colors are strong, and the
definition at a 1.78:1 aspect ratio is about as good as can be expected from
older studio elements, short of a costly digital makeover. The disc includes the original movie trailer
and, anticipating the needs of the target Boomer audience, English SDH captions. It’s questionable in this instance whether
captioning is necessary, since the dialogue consists of fifteen or twenty
nonsense Caveman words repeated over and over again, but it’s the thought that
Hitler shaped history in ways we are still coming to grips with to this day. Our
understanding and interpretation of the devastation and evil he inflicted upon
the world involves not only warfare but his impact on the lives of individuals
who would become his victims. Some of his victims would become refugees, most
prominently Jewish and political dissidents who would make their way to America
and Hollywood. Their story is told in “Cinema’s Exiles: From Hitler to
Hollywood” available on DVD by Warner Home Video.
devastation of Europe resulted in an influx of movie talent to America and their
impact is extraordinary. The great German cinema brain drain started in the
early 1930s and delivered a variety of cinematic exiles, Jews and non-Jews
alike, who fled Nazi Germany to Vienna, Paris and London before making their
way eventually to Hollywood. Fritz Lang, Henry Coster, Fred Zinneman and Curt
Siodmak would join hundreds of other exiles after having their films banned or
after being precluded from working in Germany. Franz Waxman, Billy Wilder and
Peter Lorre fled to Paris and joined up with Henry Koster in 1933 before making
their way to America.
stories of these Hollywood legends began in the silent era in Germany where the
new aspects of cinema dominated the world with innovative visual style,
techniques and story telling. German Expressionist use of light and shadow
would be a major influence on Hollywood horror, film noir and comedy for
decades and continues to influence filmmaking to this day. Hitler’s cronies
tried to coax a few of them, notably Fritz Lang to head the German film
industry and make movies for Nazi Germany, Lang and the rest would have none of
this and left for America.
directed and produced by Karen Thomas and narrated by Sigourney Weaver, this
documentary combines archival interviews with contemporary voice actors portraying
various filmmakers and actors in the tradition of television documentaries like
Ken Burns’ “The Civil War.” Reading personal letters and movie production
notes, the technique is very effective and brings these filmmakers to life as
they work to find success in Hollywood. Movie greats from Marlene Dietrich and
Paul Henreid to Ernst Lubitsch and Billy Wilder are also depicted using
archival footage, film clips, home movies, photos and recordings to not only tell
their struggles to adapt to American culture, but how they would influence
Hollywood movies for decades to come. Many were not able to achieve the same
level of success they had in Germany. Others shaped Hollywood and the movie
industry for decades.
narration brings the stories of these exiles to life in a fashion that will be
appreciated by movie buffs and casual movie fans alike. Imagine if these exiles
had not made it out of Hitler’s Europe. Imagine the loss to not just American
culture, but to the world. Imagine not having Franz Waxman’s score for “The
Bride of Frankenstein.” Thankfully we have the gift of Waxman’s score and (to
use one of my favorite directors as an example) Billy Wilder movies. This
documentary brings to life the stories of some of the exiles in the movie
industry who escaped the greatest tyranny in history.
Exiles: From Hitler to Hollywood” is available on DVD by Warner Home Video as
part of their Archive Collection and is a burn to order release. The picture
quality is terrific considering the age of much of the photos, home movies and
movie clips. This fascinating documentary was originally broadcast on PBS in
2009, clocks in at 117 minutes and makes for a very entertaining history lesson.
CLICK HERE TO ORDER FROM THE CINEMA RETRO MOVIE STORE
Entity 1982 Directed by Sydney j. Furie, Starring Barbara Hershey, Ron Silver, David
Labiosa and George Cole. Eureka Blu-ray released: 15th May 2017.
theatrically in February 1983, The Entity was an impressive piece of fantasy
horror. The film was based loosely on the story of Doris Bither and the events
that took place in Culver City in 1974.
Award nominee Barbara Hershey stars as Carla Moran, a hard-working single
mother who, one terrible night is raped in her bedroom by someone or something
that she cannot see. After meeting with sceptical psychiatrists, she is
repeatedly attacked in her car, in the bath and in front of her children. Could
this be a case of hysteria, a manifestation of childhood sexual trauma, or
something even more horrific? Now, with a group of daring parapsychologists,
Carla will attempt an unthinkable experiment: to seduce, trap and ultimately
capture the depraved spectral fury that is The Entity.
Entertainment’s Blu-ray is presented in its original 2.35:1 ratio and is an
improvement over previous DVD releases. However, The Entity, like many other 20th
Century Fox releases of the 1980s, does suffer from a rather unavoidable grainy
picture. For some reason the major studios seemed to occasionally adopt this
blatantly ‘soft-looking' style of film. Unfortunately, there doesn’t really
appear to be any method of improving that look, and as a consequence, it is still
evident on subsequent home video releases. Certain daylight scenes display an
improved clarity but of course, a great deal of The Entity’s scenes occur at
night or within dimly lit internal sets. Blacks are far from solid or deep and
instead display a milky grey quality with varying degrees of density. Another
disadvantage of darker scenes is that it shows up several flaws such as dust or
speckle. These imperfections are also evident, mainly in earlier scenes rather
than later where these flaws noticeably begin to improve. Nevertheless, you are
left wondering if The Entity has received any form of remastering? The film’s
colour palette retains a slightly dull and flat appearance, which is a shame as
it is such an enjoyable movie. The audio is both clear and punchy – elements of
which help compliment Charles Bernstein’s chilling and memorable score.
Eureka’s Blu-ray provides very little in terms of extras. There’s a relatively
short theatrical trailer which has to be said, is of poor quality. Eureka
actually produced a new HD trailer for promotional purposes (see below) and is available to
view on Youtube. It’s even shorter than the theatrical trailer, but sharply cut
and includes some different dramatic music. It might have been an idea to also
include this on the disc as it would of least provided fans of the film just
that little bit more for their enjoyment.
the poor quality of previous DVD releases, many admirers of the movie may feel
that an upgrade to the Blu-ray format is essential. However, to the casual
viewer, it may arguably be worth holding on to that DVD for just a while
of the Dead (AKA Horror Hotel) 1960 Directed by John Llewellyn Moxey, Starring
Christopher Lee, Patricia Jessel, Venetia Stevenson, Betta St. John and Dennis
Lotis. Arrow 2 disc Blu-ray and DVD released: 24th April 2017
filming began on The City of the Dead, Christopher Lee was already established
as a leading horror star. Hammer was paving the way with a new brand of horror
and Lee had played a huge part in their success playing the Frankenstein
monster, Dracula and the Mummy. The City of the Dead provided the perfect
opportunity for Lee to spread his wings further within the genre by moving into
the realms of witchcraft, the occult and American gothic.
in a small New England village (and hardly a city as the title suggests), Lee
plays Professor Driscoll, an authority on the occult who persuades one of his
students Nan Barlow (Venetia Stevenson) to research his hometown of Whitewood,
once the site of witch burnings in the 17th century. Booking herself into the
Raven’s Inn, she soon learns that devil worship among the locals hasn’t been
consigned to the past.
City of the Dead has just about everything working for it. Firstly, it is
drenched in atmosphere and reminiscent of those beautifully crafted movies
produced a decade earlier by the likes of Val Lewton and his films for RKO. Fog
shrouded and shadowy dark sets provide the perfect backdrop for this hugely
enjoyable and extremely well made film. The film also benefits from a great
production team, a blossoming partnership consisting of future Amicus founders
Milton Subotsky and Max Rosenberg. In terms of its technical spec, The City of
the Dead is a genuine delight on the senses. Arrow’s stunning transfer captures all of Desmond Dickinson’s sumptuous
monochrome photography rather beautifully. Boasting a pin sharp picture with
lovely deep blacks and a wonderful balance in contrast, this new 4K digital
restoration (by the Cohen Film Collection and the BFI) is as close to
perfection as you are likely to see. The sound is also clean (and untampered)
presented in uncompressed mono 1.0 PCM Audio. It’s a wonderful viewing
experience, and a welcome change considering the film falls into the public
domain category, which, as a result has seen many inferior releases over the
years. The City of the Dead is an extremely important film, so it’s nice to finally
see it receive the treatment it so fully deserves.
It’s easy to see why Orson Welles’ Chimes at Midnight is generally regarded
as his finest post-Touch of Evil
achievement. This Shakespearean mélange is a dazzling showcase for Welles’
ingenuity, his evident appreciation for the film’s literary foundation, and his
relentless aptitude for stylistic inventiveness. However, its haphazard
production and its rocky release comprise a backstory as complicated as the
movie’s multi-source construction (the script, based on the lengthy play “Five
Kings,” written and first performed by Welles in the 1930s, samples scenes and
dialogue from at least five of Shakespeare’s works, primarily “Henry IV,” parts
one and two, “Richard II,” “Henry V,” and “The Merry Wives of Windsor”).
Plagued by what were at this point familiar budgetary constraints, Welles shot Chimes at Midnight over the course of
about seven months in Spain, with a break when the financial well went dry.
When the film was finally released in 1966, premiering at the Cannes Film
Festival, it won two awards and was nominated for the Palme d’Or. Unfortunately
for Welles, that was as good as it was going to get. Less amenable critics,
audiences, and, perhaps most importantly, distributors, relegated the film to
its decades-long status as an underseen vision from a used-to-be-great American
master, one who actually thought it to be his best film. Recent years have seen
a sharp turnaround, though, and when a new Janus Films restoration played in
New York earlier this year, it was enough to give this extraordinary work the
boost it needed. Following a series of theatrical screenings, the revaluation
and re-appreciation of Chimes at Midnight
has culminated in a stellar Blu-ray release from the Criterion Collection.
As the film begins, Falstaff (Welles) is
navigating his fatherly-friend relationship with Prince Hal (Keith Baxter), who
is conflicted in his loyalty to his real father, King Henry IV (John Gielgud).
In the meantime, rival Henry “Hotspur” Percy (Norman Rodway) joins others in a
plot to overthrow the king, in retaliation for his brutal usurping of power
from Richard II. The ensuing drama is a complex web of political intrigue and
wartime struggle, balanced against the more intimate themes of betrayal,
friendship, family, and responsibility.
As the main character, a riotous, bulbous,
crass and somehow still charming nobleman, Welles gives one of his most
grandiose and memorable performances. In an interview on the Criterion disc,
historian Joseph McBride says it is “by far his greatest,” while in an
accompanying essay, Michael Anderegg writes, “Welles’s star performance as
Falstaff is one of his finest, tempering an unfettered exuberance with touching
vulnerability, his facial expressions and the modulations of his voice
projecting a cunning watchfulness at one moment and an openness to all of
life’s possibilities the next.” The slovenly outcast—rather “pathetic”
according to scholar James Naremore in his commentary track—is nevertheless
ambitious, scheming, and wisely opportunistic. Obviously reveling in such meaty
material, Welles plays Falstaff with a touching sympathy and a witty pomposity,
best juxtaposed when he is pranked and ridiculed by Hal and Poins (Tony
Beckley) in one scene, while in the next, his steadfast penchant for bluster
and exaggeration fails to waver in the face of shame. Unlike many of the other
individuals featured in the film, in Welles’ stage play, and in the various
Shakespearean texts, Falstaff has no historical grounding, which really doesn’t
matter. He was a popular character in Shakespearean times, always good for a
laugh, and in Chimes at Midnight, he is
similarly appealing as an endearing, comic individual.
While Welles is the clear figure of
prominence, Chimes at Midnight is
abounding in contrasting character types and a corresponding diversity of
performance. From a delightfully raucous Jeanne Moreau as Doll Tearsheet and a
rigidly formal Gielgud as Henry IV, to Marina Vlady as Kate Percy and Fernando
Rey as Worcester, Chimes at Midnight
boasts an exceptional cast with varying presentational styles. In scenes of
bawdy drunken revelry, where the words “grotesque” and “bodily humor” come to
mind (or at least they do in Naremore’s commentary), or in those sequences
distinguished by stoic primness, the actors all breathe exuberant air into what
could have easily strayed into the stolid territory of textbook Shakespearean
Leading the charge is, of course, Welles.
Under his tenacious direction, Chimes at
Midnight is a stunning assembly of formal brilliance and a masterfully
arranged adaptation, Welles’ inspired restructuring of the Shakespearean text a
testament to his familiarity with the subject. But even if he personally
oversaw details that could have been merely assigned (sketching the costumes
himself, for instance), Welles, especially in this film, benefitted greatly
from key collaborators. Edmond Richard, his cinematographer on The Trail (1962) (who would later do
excellent work with Luis Buñuel), production designer Mariano Erdoiza (his only
credit in such a role), and set decorator Jose Antonio de la Guerra all work to
contribute invaluable visual detail to the film. The Boar’s Head tavern is a
dingy and squalid retreat, a wooden structure that organically pulsates to the
rhythms of its rowdy clientele, while the King’s castle is a looming stone
chamber that, even in its sealed-off reserve, still yields vivid shafts of light.
To see just how these differing sets impact character interaction, one need
only to again go back to Welles’ portrayal of Falstaff. In the tavern, a
congenial, boozing Falstaff (the “king of winos,” according to McBride), holds
court as a larger than life figure, yet he awkwardly seems pinned within the
building’s narrow walls. “In a partly self-referential gesture—he was always
struggling with his weight—Welles goes out of his way throughout the film to
emphasize Falstaff’s sheer mass,” writes Anderegg, “his huge figure often
dominating the frame.” By contrast, at the castle, Falstaff is dwarfed by the
enormity of the structure and is reduced to being a disregarded shape amongst
the masses. In any location, though, Richard and Welles manage to strike just
the right visual balance of high-contrast black and white photography and
precise camera placement, which is nearly always conducive to a general
impression of tone, character stature, and narrative weight (nobody uses a low
angle quite like Welles).
Aside from the setting distinction between
the castle and the tavern, Chimes at
Midnight further builds on contrasting imagery. Close quarters crammed with
the bobbing heads of onlooking bystanders (many of whom were non-professional
chosen by Welles simply for the way they look) are countered by wide sweeping
natural arenas, like the setting of the Gadshill robbery, which is itself an
open patchwork of horizontal movement (Welles freely tracking through the
forest) and vertical expanse (it is a forest defined by pillaring sun-kissed
trees). The Battle of Shrewsbury, the most famous sequence from Chimes at Midnight, is similarly assembled
from juxtaposition, of speed, shot size, duration, and position. It’s an
extraordinarily well-orchestrated battle scene, an Eisensteinian montage of
quick cutting and movement textured by what Naremore points out as a Fordian
incorporation of atmospheric detail: wind, cloud cover, muddy terrain, etc.
With so much visual stimulus, the emotional
resonance of Chimes at Midnight can
potentially get lost in the crowd. By the time Hal comes to power and appears
to brush aside the pitiably loyal Falstaff, the creeping sadness that went
along with the dejected giant’s tragic optimism has become a potent, painful
betrayal—“The king has killed his heart,” says one observer. This is a film
heavily preoccupied with looming death and, worse yet, the fear of irrelevance.
Everyone’s lives are at stake in this tumultuous period, but what concerns many
more than that, particularly Falstaff, is the realization of not being wanted
or needed. Surely some of this was reflective of Welles at the time. Pushing
forward in the face of little money, limited technology, and an often
unreceptive audience, he continued to make films on his own terms, as best he
could (which was still as good if not better than anyone else). If Chimes at Midnight subsequently took
longer than hoped to be given a proper restoration and distribution, so be it.
Better late than never.
RETRO-ACTIVE: THE BEST FROM THE CINEMA RETRO ARCHIVES!
By Lee Pfeiffer
The release of Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds has thrust Enzo G. Castellari, the director of the Italian WWII pic that inspired it, back into the spotlight. This has resulted in a re-examination of his work, which has been relegated to cult status outside of his native Italy. Severin Films, which is fast becoming a major source of first-class presentations of otherwise neglected films, is honoring Castellari with the U.S. home Blu-ray edition of the director's 1969 WWII adventure Eagles Over London. Even fans of Castellari's Inglorious Bastards (note the spelling difference for the Tarantino version), probably are unfamiliar with this ambitious, relatively big budget 1969 film that was a hit in Italy, but was virtually unseen in America or England. Thanks to Severin, and Tarantino, who continues to champion Castellari's work, the movie can finally be seen and judged by English-language audiences. The film is highly impressive on all levels and one realizes the frustration that Castellari must have felt in having his achievement virtually unseen outside of mainland Europe.
Bob Hope's status as having enjoyed the longest reign as America's most beloved comedy icon remains unchallenged . When he passed away in 2003 at age 100, Hope had mastered seemingly all entertainment mediums. By the 1930s he was already a popular star on stage and in feature films. He could sing, dance and joke often simultaneously. British by birth, Hope and his family emigrated to America when he was five years old and he would ultimately become one of the USA's most patriotic public figures. His long-term contract with NBC stretched from radio days to being the face of the network's television broadcasts. It was TV that made made Hope the ultimate media icon. His NBC TV specials were the stuff of ratings gold, especially those that found him entertaining American troops in far off locations during the Christmas season. Hope continued this tradition, which started in WWII, through the early 1990s. His genius was that he never veered from his core act: quick one-liners that were designed to amuse but never offend. Although a life-long conservative and Republican, Hope knew how to thread the needle when it came to politics. He hobnobbed with presidents of both parties and the jokes he cracked about them gently poked fun at their eccentricities without offending either them or their supporters. Hope's political barbs were made in an era in which such humor would bring people together instead of polarize them. Hope's humor became dated but he never lost his popularity with older fans who continued to tune in to his TV specials and delighted at his frequent appearances on chat shows. Not everyone was a fan, however. Marlon Brando once criticized Hope's hunger for the spotlight by saying he would turn up at the opening of a supermarket if there was a camera there. Still, Hope's ubiquitous presence extended into the realm of movies, though cinema was decidedly a secondary career for him. In the 1940s and 1950s he was a top box-office attraction, with his "Road" movies co-starring Bing Crosby particularly popular. By the 1960s changing social values threatened Hope's brand of squeaky clean comedies but he still had enough juice at the boxoffice to top-line movies throughout the entire decade.
"Boy, Did I Get a Wrong Number", released in 1966, is the epitome of a Hope comedy. He plays Tom Meade, a California real estate agent who has sunk a considerable amount of money into buying a house in a remote area of the mountains by a beautiful lake. He was certain he could turn a quick profit but it transpires that the house is located in an area that is a bit too remote and his investment has turned into a money-bleeding white elephant. At the same time, the story follows the exploits of Didi (Elke Sommer), an international screen sex siren who is known for including provocative bathing sequences in her racy films. Didi is shooting her latest movie when she has a fierce argument with her director/lover Pepe Pepponi (Cesare Danova) and storms off the set to go into hiding, thus initiating an intense manhunt that dominates the headlines. Through the type of quirk that can only happen in movies, Tom makes a business phone call and accidentally gets connected with Didi, who tells him she is hiding in a nearby hotel but lacks any food or sustenance. Tom realizes he possesses bombshell information and promises to visit her with food. He sneaks out late at night so his wife Martha (Marjorie Lord) doesn't suspect anything...but unbeknownst to him, his nosy and sarcastic live-in housekeeper Lily (Phyllis Diller) catches on. When Tom arrives at Didi's hotel room, she practically seduces him but Tom has something other than sex on his mind. He offers Didi the opportunity to stay at his dormant house at the lake until the manhunt dies down. He's motivated partly by compassion and partly by the opportunity to exploit the property as the house that Didi once hid in. Things naturally go awry when Martha insists on spending a romantic weekend at the house with Tom, away from their two pre-teen but precocious son and daughter. This sets in motion one of those traditional bedroom farce situations. Tom arrives separately in advance of Martha and discovers Didi is practically comatose after taking a sleeping pill. In the ensuing mayhem, he must drag her from room to room and hide her before Martha discovers her presence. This madcap sequence is the highlight of the film and it is deftly directed by old pro George Marshall. However, the film's final act crosses the line into over-the-top outright slapstick with Diller riding wild on a motorcycle and Hope being pursued in a car chase by FBI agents who think he murdered Didi.
The joy of any Bob Hope movie is that he never played the traditional hero. He specialized in portraying characters who weren't immoral but who were willing to gnaw around the edges of ethical behavior (i.e a coward who pretends he's a hero, a virginal buffoon who pretends he's a great lover, etc.) In this production, Hope continues that tradition and gets off some good one-liners. He's got the perfect foil in Phyllis Diller and their chemistry worked so well they made two more films together in short order, "Eight on the Lam" and "The Private Navy of Sgt. O'Farrell" before Hope retired from the silver screen with his 1972 dud "Cancel My Reservation". "Boy, Did I Get a Wrong Number!" plays out like an extended TV sitcom from the era and was shot on a relatively modest budget. There are a few timid attempts to make the script a bit contemporary by including a some overt references to sex but it's still tame family-friendly viewing. It should be said that Elke Sommer, who was always somewhat underwhelming in terms of dramatic acting skills, had a true knack for playing light comedy and she's delightful in this movie in a physically demanding role that requires her to be tossed around while unconscious as though she is a rag doll. One of the more amusing aspects of the film is unintentional: Marjorie Lord's hairstyle, which is as high as a beehive and equally distracting. One keeps awaiting Hope to make some quips about it but they never come.
Olive Films has released the movie as a Blu-ray with an excellent transfer but no bonus extras. As retro comedies go, this is typical of a Bob Hope comedy from the era. It offers no surprises but somehow today the sheer predictability and innocence of his movies make for pleasing viewing- and this is no exception.
(Mil Gritos Tiene La Noche) 1982
Directed by Juan Piquer Simón, Starring Jack Taylor, Christopher George, Lynda
Day George, Frank Braña and Paul Smith. Arrow 3 disc Blu-ray, DVD and CD.
continue to satisfy our hunger for classic slasher movies with their latest
release "Pieces" (1982), a classic slice of sickening nostalgia which emerged during
the height of the video nasty era.
Boston college campus is being terrorised by a black-clad maniac who collects
body parts from his unfortunate co-ed victims. As the corpses (and red
herrings) begin to pile up, can Professor Brown (genre veteran Jack Taylor)
unmask the murderer before his morbid puzzle is complete?
of the genre should be incredibly pleased with the treatment given to this
three disc collector’s edition. Let’s be clear from the outset, “Pieces” is not
the best directed movie you’ll ever see. Director Juan Piquer Simón, a native
of Valencia, Spain, began his career working in advertising; he was a marketing
man at heart. However, it’s a background that taught him everything regarding
exploitation. Because of his career, Simón arguably constructed his films
around the shock element, the all-important ‘money shots’ that fed his
audience. Simón almost regarded plot and narrative as secondary, and instead
focused on the essential elements, which in this case were the film’s
outrageously gory set pieces.
of the highlights of Arrow’s collection is the inclusion of the original
uncensored cut of the film, Mil Gritos
Tiene La Noche. It’s not, of course, because it is simply uncensored or
because the gore factor is increased by a notch or two. It is purely because
the original Spanish language version stands up far better than its U.S. dubbed
counterpart which suffers quite dreadfully in translation. Thankfully, Arrow
has intelligently covered all corners by including both versions of the film
and allowing for the individual’s preference.
terms of quality, the film benefits hugely from a brand new restoration in
glorious 4K. Colours are rich and vibrant and look exceptionally good for a
film of its age and in consideration of its tight production budget. The audio
tracks (presented in original English and Spanish mono) are also clear and
sharp with no evidence of hiss or distortion.
deep into this collection reveals an awful lot of treats, especially in the
audio department. The inclusion of Mil
Gritos Tiene La Noche, which is exclusive to the Blu-ray, also features the
original score by Librado Pastor. There is also an option to hear an
alternative music only re-score by composer Umberto. Switching to “Pieces” (the
U.S. version) enables you to experience an entirely different score consisting
of various composers such as Stelvio Cipriani and Carlo Maria Cordio. There is
also a separate audio CD included within this package containing the original score
with 16 tracks and lasting 36 minutes. This appears to be an expanded version
over the 14 track LP debut which ran for 28 minutes and was released in
Switzerland in 2015. There is also an enjoyable and informative audio commentary
by horror and slasher loving podcasters The
Hysteria Continues featuring Joseph Henson, Justin Kerswell, Erik
Threlfall, and Nathan Johnson. These guys really know their subject, and its
inclusion here is a very welcome feature. If all of these audio options are not
enough, you can also watch the film with the 5.1 Vine Theatre Experience, a
rather curious addition allowing you to watch the film with the audience audio which
was recorded when the film was shown at the Vine Theatre in August, 2002. As I said,
it’s a curious one which doesn’t really serve much of a purpose other than listening
to audience reaction, if that’s your thing…
The cognoscenti will have no
doubt noted this is the third home video resurrection of
writer-director-co-producer Ted Newsom’s Flesh
& Blood: The Hammer Heritage of Horror. Originally issued on VHS in 1999 as part of Anchor Bay’s ambitious and
much welcomed “Hammer Collection” series, this affectionate documentary was
subsequently ported over to DVD in 2004 by Image Entertainment, Inc. Both of those earlier releases shared a
running time of some ninety-nine minutes. This comprehensive new version, curiously issued again on DVD rather than
as an upgraded Blu, boasts of a “Digitally Remastered Expanded Director’s Cut.” This newest incarnation, as promised, has
been expanded with an additional thirty-seven minutes of material. Whether or not the tighter original cut has
been artistically or informatively superseded by this director’s cut is open to
argument. While the new version is of more
generous length, it must be said the story arc occasionally meanders, unnecessarily
bloated by too-familiar footage culled from original trailers.
Regardless, this documentary
is an essential item for fans of Hammer, thoughtfully outlining the studio’s metamorphosis
from a small film distribution company to a vanguard of the British film
industry. In the mid 1930s Hammer’s
earliest successes were with such monochrome dramas as Songs of Freedom (with Paul Robeson) and mysteries as The Mystery of the Mary Celeste (with
Bela Lugosi). Not surprisingly, it
really wasn’t until after the country emerged from the rubble of WWII that the
studio would hit a proper stride, adapting such popular British radio shows as Dick Baron: Special Agent as cinematic
properties. But it wasn’t until the
studio acquired the rights to bring Nigel Kneale’s popular science fiction BBC
television series The Quatermass
Experiment to the big screen in 1955 that Hammer’s course was set. The success of that film spawned a sequel and
a knockoff which would signal what would follow. Beginning with TheCurse of Frankenstein
(1957), the studio would score with an influential and commercially successful string
of science-fiction, fantasy and horror films. These successes cemented the studio’s reputation as Britain’s preeminent
In that regard, Hammer had appropriated
the mantle previously held by Universal Studios as the foremost purveyor of
Gothic horror cinema. Though the studio
was barred from utilizing Jack Pierce’s iconic make-up designs - as well as other
Universal inventions protected by copyright – such public domain properties as
Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Mary
Shelley’s Frankenstein were free for an
original and modern updating. If
anything, the time was right for the torch of the angry villager to be passed
on. Universal had all but abandoned their
dependable stable of classic monsters, choosing instead to bring creatures of
the atom-age to the screen. As Flesh & Blood astutely notes, Hammer
would inadvertently rescue these monsters of folklore from the ignominy of their
being mere slapstick foils to Abbott and Costello. With their distinctive trademark mix of splashy
Technicolor, tawdry bloodletting, overt sexuality, and a battery of dreamy screen
sirens (and unashamed displays of ample cleavage), the studio effectively
reenergized interest in gothic-horror cinema.
To be sure, this is not an
easy story to tell to satisfaction. Flesh
& Blood bravely attempts to thoroughly document the sprawling history
and trajectory of Hammer’s hits and misses, offering a score of first-person
and genuinely interesting procession of candid talking-head interviews. The studio, as many of this film’s
participants take great pains to point out here, was a business first and
foremost. The producers were primarily interested
in turning a tidy profit on their investment and productions were sometimes
hobbled by miserly budgeting. Even in
the studio’s halcyon days (1957-1972) most of the studio’s film projects – many
pre-sold to distributors on little more than a colorful mock-up of an
exploitative film poster – adhered to a tight six week shooting schedule.
As the principal photography
of this documentary began as early as 1993, the pool of talent available for
interview had not yet been thinned by time and age. In truth, there’s hardly a then-surviving veteran
from behind or in front of Hammer’s cameras who isn’t interviewed or referenced
in the film. In a particular masterstroke,
the producers were able to enlist the studio’s two greatest and most iconic star
players, Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing, to serve as principal narrators of
the opus. It’s mostly Lee’s narration
that carries the documentary forward, though the wasting, frail voice of a
clearly ailing Peter Cushing also bravely serves in this capacity.
interviews, home movies, trailers, vintage newsreels, stock footage, photographs,
promotional materials, and elements sourced from television archives, we are
introduced to the surviving men and woman who served as the studio’s primary
movers and shakers. Those sharing
behind-the camera memories are Michael
Carreras, Anthony Hinds, Roy Ward Baker, Don Sharp, Freddie Francis, Aida
Young, Jimmy Sangster, Richard Matheson, and composer James Bernard amongst others. Among those who appeared on the silver screen
and were happy to share their insights and warm recollections are the bosomy
starlets who were the epitomes of “Hammer Glamour:” Ingrid Pitt, Martine
Beswick, Caroline Munro, Hazel Court, Raquel Welch, and Veronica Carlson.
Olive Films has released the 1990 TV movie "The Last Best Year" as a no-frills DVD. The movie is a sobering account of a young woman's battle against life-threatening cancer. Jane Murray is a 38 year-old career woman who has distinguisher herself in the corporate travel industry. A workaholic, Jane has placed her career trajectory above everything else. Consequently, she's respected by her boss and her peers but her personal life is largely devoid of personal relationships. She lives a solitary existence with only a pet cat as a companion. Her love life is relegated to occasional flings with an older married man. She seems content with her lot in life until she becomes mysteriously ill. She ignores the symptoms of weakness and dizziness until a visit to her physician, Dr. Castle (Brian Beford) becomes unavoidable. He delivers the bad news: she has terminal cancer and has only a number of months to live. The diagnosis hits Jane with understandably devastating results. She suddenly takes stock of her life and realizes how many unfilled dreams there are. Dr. Castle suggests that she get counseling from his friend, psychiatrist Wendy Haller (Mary Tyler Moore). However, Wendy is reluctant to take on Jane as a client because she is hesitant to form relationship with someone who is destined to die in a few months. It turns out that Wendy is haunted by the death of her own father at a young age when she was a little girl and has had her own mental barriers when it comes to dealing with people facing untimely deaths. Nevertheless, she is moved by Dr. Castle's pleas and agrees to see Jane. The two women form a close bond that goes beyond a doctor/client relationship. Wendy is happily married to a good man and they have a healthy son who is a college student. She realizes through Jane's plight how fortunate her own life is. She devotes herself to ensuring that Jane's remaining days are as as pleasant and fulfilling as possible. Jane has no living relatives except for her aunt Lizzie (Carmen Matthews), who still lives in a small town in Kansas where Jane was born. At Wendy's urging, Jane decides to make a surprise visit to Lizzie, who is delighted to see her. Through Lizzie, she learns much about her own childhood and the qualities of her parents, both of whom died at young ages.
As Jane's health declines, she increasingly relies on emotional support from a new found friendship with her secretary Amy (Erika Alexander), Lizzie and Wendy. Jane makes a shocking confession to Wendy: at age 18 she became pregnant. Alone and desperate, she received care in a convent and signed a legal agreement to give her baby son up for adoption. Over the years she has been haunted by the boy's fate. Before she passes away she wants to find out what his disposition in life is in the hope that he has been happy and successful. However, the agreement with the convent precludes her from finding out who her son's adoptive parents are and making any inquiries of them. Jane makes a trip to visit Sister Mary Rose (Kate Reid) at the convent in the desperate hope that an exception might be made so that she can have some peace of mind about her son's fate. The latter portion of the story concentrates on this aspect of Jane's dilemma as she finds her physical health diminishing rapidly and being confined to a bed.
Reunited: Mary Tyler Moore and Bernadette Peters at tribute dinner for Moore at the Players club in New York City, 2009. (Photo copyright Cinema Retro. All rights reserved),
"The Last Best Year" is what would have been quaintly referred to in time's past as a "two-handkerchief" production, given the amount of emotional baggage the character of Jane is forced to carry. Although the movie was clearly designed to appeal to female viewers, it's central theme of how a health crisis can affect far more people than the person who is afflicted will resonate with everyone. The performances are universally excellent (the film features the final acting role of Dorothy McGuire in a supporting role) with Moore proving once again that she had plenty of skill in playing dramatic roles. The revelation at the time was that Bernadette Peters could, too. Up to this point, Peters was primarily known for her singing skills and for playing light comedy. She gives a superb performance as Jane, a strong-willed, courageous woman who never loses her dignity even as her personal situation leaves her in a rather undignified status, forced to rely on the kindness of her circle of newly-found friends. The production is very sensitively directed by John Erman, who eschews over-the-top sentiment and provides a realistic scenario that millions of people can identify with: the challenge of bringing comfort to a dying loved one. "The Last Best Year" is a predictably sad experience but ultimately one that manages to be uplifting, as well, as it deals with a brave individual and the caring people around her who try to make her tragic situation as bearable as possible. In that respect it concentrates on the best aspects of human nature, something only rarely seen in many of today's television productions.
A wonderfully understated comedy-drama, The
Electric Horseman follows the story of Sonny Steele (Robert Redford), a five-time
champion rodeo cowboy now turned brand spokesman for AMPco, a giant corporate
firm selling 'Ranch' breakfast cereal. Steele's
life has become essentially a series of advertising appearances, at which he is
required to brandish a box of cereal with his face adorning it whilst wearing a
garish cowboy outfit festooned with electric fairy lights. The forced smiles, autographs and constant
touring are starting to crack Steele; when we meet him, he is a disillusioned,
unreliable drunk, stumbling from one engagement to the next.
The film centres around a big Las Vegas
convention where Steele is booked for a ride-on appearance with AMPco's prize mascot,
a 12-million-dollar racehorse. Horse and
rider are strapped up in purple paisley silk and electric lights, the
ridiculous spectacle of which, in the capital of sensational fakery and
money-worship, proves to be the final straw for Steele. Appalled that the horse (a past champion like
himself) has been drugged in order to fulfil the appearance, Steele decides
then and there to ride him off into the desert and away from the bright lights
of Vegas and the public eye. It is here
the film really begins, as investigative journalist Hallie Martin (Jane Fonda)
picks up Sonny Steele's story and pursues his mission to restore the horse to
In tracking down and following Sonny, Hallie
becomes impressed with his knowledge of animals, nature and the land; he is indeed
no fake but a 'real' cowboy in the most nostalgic sense; looking back to an
innocent, forgotten America. As Sonny
and Hallie drop their guards, against astounding mountainous scenery they sing 'American the Beautiful', unashamed and
without irony: "O beautiful for spacious skies/For amber waves of grain/For
purple mountain majesties...". Nonetheless,
there is little schmaltz to be found here; no overbearing passionate Hollywood
drama; Fonda's character is reminded by Sonny that there is no need for
pretension with him, "It's not gonna be on television".
Sonny's attempts to liberate the horse is
also a way of trying to free himself; from the world of fame and commerce, from
which he shuns further attention. The
kinship Sonny feels for the horse spreads beyond the screen; his nursing of the
animal in the film is detailed and attentive and in real life, Redford not only
did all his own riding stunts but, apparently, loved the horse so much he
brought it home and kept it for the rest of its life.
At its core, the story is really one of
authenticity; the world of money and business, bright lights and fakery versus
nature, friendship and the great outdoors. Sonny's faithful friend and manager Wendell is played by Willie Nelson
(in his feature debut, reputedly ad-libbing most of his dialogue), bringing
further authenticity to the cowboys; Wendell and Sonny, after yet another
dispiriting tour date, drunkenly sing a song Nelson himself had a recent chart
hit with: "Mamas Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to be Cowboys/'Cause They'll
Never Stay Home and They're Always Alone".
There are no shootouts, saloons or spurs in
the language here, but aspiration to a gentle caring spirit and understanding
of nature and the outdoors. The only
'bad guys' are the heads of corporations who care only for profit, represented in
the film by an unusually cold, steely faced John Saxon. For its grand themes, director Pollack delivers
them in an oblique and unassuming way; the sound design during scenes in Las
Vegas has slot machines and tannoy announcements, disconcertingly, almost as
loud as the dialogue itself, which only emphasises the clarity, stillness and
simplicity of scenes in the great outdoors.
There are lots of great comic moments and
funny, sharply delivered lines; no less than you might expect from repartee
between Redford and Fonda, who had previously co-starred in The Chase and Barefoot
in the Park. Valerie Perrine (memorable
as Ms. Teschemacher in 1978's Superman) also plays a notable supporting role as
Sonny's soon-to-be ex-wife and Wilfrid Brimley (Cocoon) plays a marvellously
modest but key supporting role. For fans
of 1970s kitsch, there is a bit of everything here that you might expect from
the era; from cowboy rodeos and disco dancing Vegas showgirls to a full on horse-race
multi-car chase à la The Dukes of Hazzard (with one especially impressive
stunt, culminating in one police car tearing along whilst carrying another,
upside down, on top of it!).
The screener copy available for review of
this re-release had no menu or extras, but the picture quality is excellent and
does justice to the stunning cinematography of both the Vegas spectacle and its
vast surrounding desert scenery.
The most memorable aspect of "Who is Harry Kellerman and Why Is He Saying Those Terrible Things About Me?" is its title, which still resonates with people of a certain age even though most probably never saw the film itself. "Harry" was a speed bump in Dustin Hoffman's meteoric rise to success that began with "The Graduate" in 1967 and continued with such diverse hits as "Midnight Cowboy", "Little Big Man" and "Straw Dogs" (which would be released a few months after "Harry"). Directed by Ulu Grosbard, who would direct Hoffman in the drama "Straight Time" seven years later, "Harry" is a bizarre comedy with an anti-Establishment social message. Hoffman, almost unrecognizable behind a mustache and curly hair, plays Georgie Soloway, a "Boy Wonder" in the music business for his ability to almost instantly write hit rock and folk songs, along with memorable advertising jingos. He has fame and fortune and resides in luxurious penthouse apartment in Manhattan that is a virtual museum to his own accomplishments. However, the affable Georgie is desperately lacking something in his life: genuine friendships and a loving, significant other. The film doesn't follow a linear path and bounces around between various stages of Georgie's life. We see him growing up in Brooklyn, the only child of two stereotypical, overbearing Jewish parents. As a teenager, Georgie goes through the customary stages of trying to deal with raging hormones. He and a friendly but air-headed girl become lovers but he cruelly ditches her when she becomes pregnant, which was an even greater dilemma for women in the era before abortions were legal. Later we see he had married when he impregnated another woman who bore him two children. Georgie ended up deserting them as well because he couldn't deal with the adult responsibilities that fatherhood demands. We see present-day Georgie having no problems finding bedmates but he realizes he only attracts women because of his fame and fortune. Every time he seems to enter a promising relationship it is compromised when the woman is contacted by a mysterious man who calls himself Harry Kellerman and who seems to know all the intimate aspects of Georgie's life. Kellerman routinely unveils to these women the sordid ways Georgie has treated previous lovers and inevitably, his new relationships fail. When we first see Georgie, he is a psychological basket case. He fantasizes about suicide as though it will be a charming and pleasant experience. He also desperately tries to forge genuine friendships with those in his life. For years he has been paying a psychiatrist (Jack Warden) to hear his problems and act as a surrogate father figure to him but it becomes clear the man only sees Georgie as another client. Similarly, Georgie's outreach to his business manager (Gabriel Dell) and his harried accountant (Dom DeLuise) fails to result in establishing anything but business relationships. Georgie is the ultimate poor little rich boy. Much of the story line finds Georgie increasingly infuriated by Kellerman's interference in his love life and becoming obsessed with finding out who he is and how he knows so much about him.
The film was written by Herb Gardner, best known for his play "A Thousand Clowns", which was also about a dysfunctional New York man, who- like Georgie- was superficially charming but not very admirable. Gardner's screenplay drifts back and forth through time at a dizzying pace and sometimes it's hard to know whether we are viewing Georgie in the past or present. He also includes sequences that are genuinely bizarre but are later revealed to be dreams or fantasies. The end result is a rather unsatisfying mix of comedy and pathos despite fine performances by everyone involved. Director Grosbard makes scant use of the New York locations, other than some earlier scenes representing Coney Island in the 1950s and one fantasy scene that finds Georgie inside either the Holland or Lincoln Tunnel, which is totally deserted (trying filming that today). There are also some wonderful aerial shots of the city as we watch the bored Georgie pilot his personal jet for joy rides. But Grosbard never captures the flavor of New York and film could just have easily been set in any major city. The movie is primarily shot in dark interiors with grim lighting, making for a suitably depressing experience. The message of the movie seems to be that money can't buy happiness and that personal virtues are more important than a large bank account. This may be true but it wasn't exactly a unique theory even in 1971. The film comes alive mostly in its final phase when Georgie meets an untalented aspiring singer (Barbara Harris, superb in an Oscar-nominated performance) who is ditzy but lovable. She brings out the kind of genuine human emotion that Georgie had been suppressing for most of his life- but is it too late to save him from his own demons? The final scene of the movie sees Georgie finally seeming to find happiness as he soars above the boroughs of New York City in a wonderfully-filmed sequence that comes to an unexpected conclusion, even as it provides an answer to the question "Who is Harry Kellerman?"
Kino Lorber has released the film on Blu-ray sans any special features other than a trailer for Ulu Grosbard's 1981 drama "True Confessions". The transfer is very good indeed but can't overcome the deficiencies in the film itself. "Harry Kellerman" isn't a bad film and it does provide the joy of seeing another fine performance by young Dustin Hoffman. But it is a movie that falls far short of its aspirations and at times comes across as merely pretentious.
a film festival in the mid-seventies, Sam Peckinpah was once questioned about
how the studios regularly bastardised his vision, his intension and more
specifically, if he would ever be able to make a ''pure Peckinpah'' picture. He
replied, '’I did 'Alfredo Garcia' and I did it exactly the way I wanted to.
Good or bad, like it or not, that was my film.''
narrative for Alfredo Garcia is neither complicated nor convoluted. Warren
Oates plays Bennie, a simple pianist residing in a squalid barroom in Mexico.
He is approached by two no-nonsense Americans (Robert Webber and Gig Young) who
are attempting to track down Alfredo Garcia. The womanising Garcia is the man
responsible for the pregnancy of Theresa (Janine Maldonado) the teenage
daughter of a powerful Mexican boss El Jefe (Emilio Fernández). In a display of
power, El Jefe offers $1,000,000 for the delivery of Garcia’s head. Bennie is
unaware of the true bounty, but fully aware that his girlfriend, local prostitute
Elita (Isela Vega) was once involved with Garcia. More importantly, Bennie also
knows that Garcia is in fact, already dead. Bennie recognises this as a way
out, a one off payday opportunity and convinces Elita to take him to Garcia’s
burial place. His plan is to dig up the body, cut off the head and collect on
his fee, an agreed $10,000. Elita shows some hesitancy, and before long the
heavy drinking, paranoiac aspects of Bennie begin to suspect that Elita still
carries feelings for the dead Garcia. After an arduous and testing car journey
they both finally reach their destination, a place where their plans will take
a devastating and unsuspecting twist.
has delivered a new 4K restoration from the original camera negative. The
overall image is beautifully presented and a great deal cleaner than previously
seen. Dirt, debris and all other manner of light wear have now been removed. As
Arrow points out, there are some minor instances of density fluctuation and
photochemical damage, but these really are not distracting. I noticed slight
fluctuations during the torture of Theresa, but this is arguably due to the
condition of the original film elements and to be expected. More importantly it
does not distract from the overall presentation of the film. One could even
suggest that such minor defects are perfectly suited and in line with the
gritty, sweat soaked ambience that Peckinpah arguably sought to present. The 4K
scan has been fully justified and as a result the level of detail has been
greatly improved without ever compromising or hampering the genuine celluloid
look – an element so essential to a movie such as Alfredo Garcia. Colours retain
a realistic and natural quality, almost dry and dusty as opposed to a sun
drenched and over cooked. Thankfully, Arrow has also resisted the temptation to
beef up the audio, so don’t go looking for a falsely created 5.1 mix. Alfredo Garcia was recorded in mono, so purists
will be delighted with the original 1.0 mono mix transferred from the original
35mm single stripe magnetic track. The audio elements are also clean, dynamic and
hold a consistent level of clarity throughout.
Peckinpah on the set in Mexico.
the extras on disc one are two excellent audio commentaries. The first is a new
and exclusively recorded commentary by Stephen Prince, author of Savage Cinema:
Sam Peckinpah and the Rise of Ultraviolent Movies. Prince’s narration looks
closely at Peckinpah’s philosophy and theory. It’s a commentary that also
examines the characters to some depth. It also encourages you to think and ask
questions. There are also more generalised observations from Prince involving
the story, in particular the scene with the two bikers (played by Kris Kristofferson
and Donnie Fritts). It’s a scene which has always bothered me, and serves no real
importance to the story. So it was pleasing to hear that Prince agrees, and
that it provides very little - other than slowing down the pace and the
narrative. I don’t mind either film philosophy or debate, but I occasionally
believe it sometimes has a tendency to overstretch or lose itself in some strange
form of self-consumption. Nevertheless, Prince’s commentary does keep your
attention throughout and provides plenty of food for thought.
second audio commentary is moderated by film historian Nick Redman and features
Sam Peckinpah scholars Paul Seydor, Garner Simmons and David Weddle. This
commentary first appeared on the Twilight Time Encore Edition Blu-ray and works
extremely well. The advantage of course, is that it provides various different
perspectives and viewpoints. For instance, on this occasion, the same Kristofferson
and Fritts biker scene results in a clear difference of opinion. We, the viewer
are offered a perfectly logical and justified reasoning for this scene, in that
Bennie is provided with the opportunity ‘walk the walk’ rather than just ‘talk
the talk’. The implication of the scene, along with a contrasting perspective
of its inclusion, suddenly offers something new to digest and signifies perhaps
a different level to Bennie’s character. Seydor, Simmons and Weddle are not
afraid of arguing their opinions, but also retain a clear respect for each
other’s knowledge and understanding. It’s a perfect ensemble of experts, each
of whom is clearly on top of their subject.
Peckinpah: Man of Iron is Paul Joyce’s feature-length (93minutes) 1993
documentary featuring interviews with James Coburn, Kris Kristofferson, Monte
Hellman, Ali MacGraw, Jason Robards and many others. Its inclusion on Arrow’s
special edition marks the first time it is available on home video in the UK.
The documentary was released prior on Criterion’s Straw Dogs (1971) DVD release
but omitted some film clips due to copyright and reduced the running time by
some 10 minutes. Man of Iron is a very personal and enjoyable reflection of the
man and told by the people that knew him best. It is a brutally honest account
which shows Peckinpah, not only for his craftsmanship, but also for his flaws,
for which there were many. As gifted as Peckinpah was, there are also accounts
of his cruelty, manipulation and his complexity. His demise into alcohol and
later his cocaine use is arguably pitiful and reflected to some degree in his
later films. Regardless of this, he remained loved by his friends, many of
which returned to work with him over and over again. Whilst Man of Iron
celebrates the man and his work, it never attempts to paper over the cracks or
his personal frailties. It provides a well-balanced account and as a result,
makes for fascinating viewing.
up is The John Player Lecture: Sam Peckinpah, an audio only recording of the
director’s on-stage appearance at the National Film Theatre in London (47 minutes).
Whilst there is no indication, this recording possibly dates from around 1971.
Peckinpah does make a reference to his next film to be released, The Ballad of
Cable Hogue (1970) and because he is in the UK at this time may be an
indication that he was in pre-production stages for his next film Straw Dogs
(1971) which was shot in Cornwall. Peckinpah does sound a little uncomfortable in
front of an audience and not entirely at ease. There is almost a sense of
comfort knowing that his friend Warren Oates is sitting among the audience and
on several occasions Peckinpah tries to draw him actively into the
conversation. When questioned about certain aspects of his work, Peckinpah does
at times seem a little reluctant to answer and the sighs picked up by his
microphone appear to back this up. However, Peckinpah does reveal a great deal
of insightful information, as well as taking the opportunity in criticising the
film establishment, such as the censors and producers and in the way they have
handled his work. Historically, it is an important piece to include; my only minor
gripe is when it comes to the audience questions, which are at times close to
inaudible. As the audio interview is carried out over a still image of
Peckinpah, it might have been an idea to overlay some text in reference to the
actual audience questions. In doing so it would have made it a great deal
easier to decipher exactly what Peckinpah was referring to in his answers.
As Richard Burton's star power began to decline in the early 1970s, he was chastised for appearing in too many inconsequential films and accused of simply taking any job that came along to help pay for his high-end life style. As with Marlon Brando, many of Burton's films that were initially despised by critics and ignored by the public have gained new appreciation in recent years. One such effort was Villain, a brutal British crime drama produced by Elliott Kastner, directed by the unheralded Michael Tucher and boasting script contributions than none other than character actor Al Lettieri, who made a career of playing gangsters. Clearly inspired by the reign of terror presided over by London's notorious Kray clan, the story finds Burton as Vic Dakin, an outwardly charismatic and charming man who also happens to be one of the city's most notorious crime lords. Vic is no white collar criminal. He still lives among the people he terrorizes and is a mainstay at the local pub. Vic dotes on his aging mother (Cathleen Nesbitt) and keeps his army of confederates in line through the threat of strict punishment for any violation of trust. Vic's ambitions get the better of him when he strays from neighborhood crime and plans an ambitious heist with a reluctant fellow crime lord. The plan goes horribly awry, leading Vic to fear that he will be sold out by his co-conspirator, who is severely wounded and in police custody. He becomes obsessed with gaining access to the man and silencing him before he can talk. Doggedly following his every move is a police inspector (well-played by Nigel Davenport), who engages in a game of psychological cat-and-mouse with Vic in his quest to bring the vicious criminal to justice.
Villain was denounced by British critics and movie fans at the time because of what was perceived as Burton's ill-fated attempt to master a Cockney accent. However, other aspects of his performance are admirable. Burton pretty much controls his penchant for scenery-chewing and offers a fairly restrained portrayal of a sadistic man who is nonetheless slow to reach his boiling point. Vic can be sensitive, funny and ingratiating..but when driven to anger, capable of administering much brutality himself. He also hides the fact that he is gay and his preferred sex partner is Wolfie (excellently played by Ian McShane), a good looking ladies man who one suspects is only bedding Vic out of fear of rejecting his overtures. (A sex scene between Burton and McShane was filmed but ended up on the cutting room floor.) The homosexual angle is only hinted at in the final cut of the film, but Burton had gone a bridge too far in this regard, at least as far as critics were concerned. Two years before, he had played a prissy gay man opposite Rex Harrison (as his lover) in Stanley Donen's Staircase, another fine film that was under-appreciated in its day. Burton's bold career moves would be praised today but met with scorn at the time. His face weather-beaten from years of personal excess, Burton was actually entering an interesting period of his career that saw him able to expand beyond playing hunky heart throbs. Villain affords him an interesting starring vehicle that is now being favorably compared to other classic British crime films such as Get Carter, a movie that was released the same year and also met with a mediocre response until a new generation discovered its merits. Perhaps the same will hold true for this film, which boasts an excellent supporting cast, fine direction and a literate, believable script.
The Warner Archive has released Villain as a burn-to-order DVD. Quality is fine, but sadly there are no extras.
CLICK HERE TO ORDER FROM THE CINEMA RETRO MOVIE STORE
“Broken Lance” (1954) is another great Blu-Ray release
from Twilight Time, which seems to be specializing in 20th Century
Fox Cinemascope productions from the 1950s. These wide-screen, star-studded
productions were all the rage back in the day. Utilizing the wider screen and
full directional stereophonic sound to tell big stories, they’re the kind of
movies they really just don’t make anymore. Director Edward Dmytryk shot this
film on location in Arizona and cinematographer Joe MacDonald fills every
outdoor seen with both a sense of grandeur and, somehow, a feeling of
loneliness, which befits a story about a man who outlived his time, and has
become a dinosaur.
Spencer Tracy is the man—Matt Devereaux, a tough,
hard-nosed rancher who owns the biggest ranch in the territory. He got
everything he has by fighting for it, and his hard-bitten attitude hasn’t
diminished with age. The tough way he treats everyone extends down to his four
sons, three, Ben, Mike, and Denny (Richard Widmark, Hugh O’Brien and Earl
Holliman) from a deceased first wife, and a fourth, Joe, (Robert Wagner) with a
Native American woman (Katy Jurado). The three from the first wife resent the
way they’re treated. They work hard and see little compensation for it. They’re
also a little jealous of the half-breed son, who seems favored by the old man.
The story starts with Joe being released from prison after
serving three years, taking a rap for the sake of the family. His father is
dead now and he’s taken to the governor (E.G. Marshall) and offered a deal by
his greedy brothers: $20,000 and a ranch in Oregon if he leaves the territory,
and trouble if he turns the offer down. Joe tosses the money into a spittoon
and rides out to the old ranch house. It’s deserted and ramshackle now, the
three brothers having moved into town. Joe stands before a portrait of the old
man on horseback asking for a sign to tell him what to do. The film then shifts
into a flashback which tells the story of the rivalry between the brothers, the
old man’s dispute with a copper mining operation next to the ranch that is
poisoning the water on the ranch, and a love story between Joe and the
governor’s daughter (Jean Peters). It’s a big, sprawling story of the end of a
If any of this sounds familiar, it’s because the story is
loosely based on two different sources. The first obviously is Shakespeare’s
tragedy of King Lear, which was a story of a king who bequeathed his kingdom to
two of his three daughters and lived to regret it. In the case of “Broken
Lance” the protagonist has four sons, not daughters, and Matt Devereaux doesn’t
intend to bequeath anything to anybody, at least not until he’s long buried in
the ground. The other more direct source of Richard Murphy’s screenplay is
Philip Yordan’s script for an older Fox noir pot boiler, “House of
Strangers.” In that one, Edward G. Robinson is the
patriarchal figure, the head of a bank, who gets ripped off by three of his
sons, while the good son, Max (Richard Conte) takes the rap when his father is
charged with embezzlement.
The urban drama, based on a book by Jerome Weidman,
translated fairly well to a western setting, and Dmytryk does a good job
keeping the action moving, while keeping the focus on the family’s internal
struggles and the titanic, doomed efforts of Matt Devereaux to hold his empire
together. Tracy gives a good performance, as usual, as a man who knows no other
way to live his life, although the character as written by screenwriter Richard
Murphy, seems a bit one-dimensional. It’s hard to feel sympathy for someone so
bull-headed. Wagner was adequate as the half-breed son, and Widmark turned in
his usual bad guy performance. Hey, he’s Richard Widmark and you expect him to
be a rat. Katy Jurado, of course, always added grace and dignity to any film
she appeared in and this is no exception. Jean Peters, as Wagner’s love
interest, provided at least one reason for the half-breed Joe to stay in the
The Blu-Ray transfer of this Cinemascope presentation is
first rate, as we’ve come to expect from these Twilight Time limited editions
(only 3,000 made). Picture and sound are very good. The extras include an audio
commentary with Nick Redman and Earl Holliman, who talks about what it was like
working with Dmytryk and Tracy. There’s an isolated soundtrack, featuring
composer Leigh Harline’s big orchestral sound, a booklet essay by Julie Kirgo,
some previews, and a newsreel showing Philip Yordan getting an Oscar for “House
of Strangers”. A pretty full package.
Bottom line: Although “Broken Lance,” strives to reach
the heights of a Shakespearean tragedy on horseback, Richard Murphy’s script suffers
from thin characterizations that lean toward stereotypes, and a plot that
eventually fizzles out in a standard horse opera shootout. It’s not a bad film,
but given the cast and the sources material it could have been great. Still, it’s
worth seeing. Recommended for fans of big westerns and the widescreen
extravaganzas of the fifties.
The packaging for the 1978 grindhouse film "Sex Roulette" states it is "a West German/Belgian erotic oddity". That's seems like an accurate description because this is, indeed, one weird production. While most X-rated fare from the era were relatively unimaginative, micro-budget affairs, "Sex Roulette" looks relatively lush and was filmed in some exotic European locations. It also presents some of the strangest characters ever assembled in a film of this type. We can start with Robert Le Ray, an actor who began his career in legitimate films only to transcend into the world of X-rated fare. Le Ray is the male lead in the film and he's debonair and handsome in a Leslie Nielsen kind of way. He was also 77 years old when he was cast. He plays Lord Robert de Chamoiz, an affable aristocrat with a sizable bank account and seemingly no responsibilities or worries. He has an unusually close relationship with his vivacious young niece, Veronique (Vanessa Melville). The two travel the world in style to indulge in their greatest passions. For Veronique this means the gaming tables at top-tier casinos where she gambles without abandon. For Lord de Chamoiz (who she refers to simply as "Uncle"), this means trying to tame his insatiable appetite for sex by bedding seemingly every young woman who comes into his orbit. He has a special passion for chamber maids and bribes them with large sums of money to not only go to bed with him but to also participate in sex acts they would otherwise not ever contemplate. These include arranged group sex encounters during which Uncle acts as a sort of perverted narrator for the action that is unfolding. He possesses an almost hypnotic ability to comfort the women involved and speaks to them in a soothing, paternal manner even while they are engaging in wild acts. Uncle is also a voyeur and he takes every opportunity to engage in this secondary passion. When he has a chance meeting with an auto mechanic who is repairing his car, he bribes the man to allow him to surreptitiously watch him make love to his girlfriend. Meanwhile, the gorgeous Veronique finds herself virtually frigid due to the fact that all of her time and thought process goes into gambling. Uncle has a solution for that: she should assertively have sexual encounters with the strangers in order to reawaken her libido. Turns out it's good advice. After she is seduced by lesbian sisters (!), Veronique finds her love life is back to whatever passes for "normal". The third major character is the Lord's faithful butler, a black man who also happens to be a little person. He's just as sex-crazed as his boss and functions as both a solicitor for his women but also manages to use his physical condition to attract women for himself on the basis that they've never made love to a little person. A running gag in the film is the butler's preference for engaging in sex on desktops, which mandates that he stand on a stack of telephone books. Every time he walks through the room with some telephone books, the Lord jokes that his loyal servant has gotten lucky again. After traveling to Monte Carlo and living it up on the Lord's seemingly inexhaustible funds, the film takes an even more bizarre turn when Veronique seduces her uncle. The whole story climaxes, if you will, with a big orgy atop gaming tables in a casino.
Veronique is addicted to the Bondian world of high stakes casinos.
There are so many distasteful elements to "Sex Roulette" that one can hardly chronicle them all here. However, the movie is genuinely funny, sometimes intentionally sometimes not. The dubbing is wildly inconsistent with some characters' lip movements rarely matching the associated dialogue. The exception is the voice over artist who dubbed Uncle with a gentle, soothing voice that somehow fits the character we view on screen. The film also boasts some impressive elements that seem out of left field. An extended scene of a car ride down a major highway at high speed benefits from having the camera mounted inside the car, which gives a real big budget feel to the sequence as well as some impressive footage. There are also scenes of Monte Carlo shot from a helicopter that seem appropriate for a mainstream travelogue. The most amusing elements of the film revolve around the characters of Uncle, Veronique and the butler. They seem straight out of "The Munsters" or "The Addams Family" in that they appear to be complete oblivious about the fact that their activities don't fit in with those of "normal" people. Just as Gomez Addams blew up toy trains with TNT and his children chopped off doll heads on a mini guillotine, the principals in "Sex Roulette" act as those their strange sexual doings are quite normal. Uncle is being serviced by a hotel maid? Okay, I'll just wait until they are finished to enter the room and discuss important matters. Veronique's encounter with lesbian sisters got her mind off gambling for a few hours? Marvelous! The butler finds love with a BBW-type who he met at an orgy? How wonderful that he's found his soul mate! There are some Bondian elements to the atmosphere with the trio visiting high stakes casinos where men wear tuxedos and women are adorned in expensive dresses and gowns. (One suspects the other elegant people who appear in these scenes probably had no idea they would turn up in a sex film.) Here, Uncle demonstrates a bizarre but unique talent. At the roulette table, he insists on tasting several of the steel balls used in the wheel. He churns them around in his mouth until he finally finds one that is acceptable-then with lightning speed he spits it out and has it land precisely on the number he wants to play on the roulette wheel. It's oddball scenes like this that make one think that these characters could have had a life in a "legitimate" comedy that wasn't dependent on hard-core sex scenes.
"Uncle" is about to indulge in his strange ritual of tasting roulette balls before spitting one on to the wheel.
Impulse Films has released "Sex Roulette" on DVD. According to the liner notes, the film was routinely butchered in various international markets because of the tastelessness of some scenes. (i.e: in one sequence, Uncle arranges for some young people to carry out an orgy inexplicably held in a literal pig pen.). The DVD restores all of the most controversial scenes and has been remastered from original 35mm elements. The end result remains an acquired taste for viewers with very liberal outlooks on what forms entertainment. However, for this writer, it is superior to most grind house fare from the era simply because it is so cheerfully off-the-charts crazy.
If you've seen "The Savage Is Loose", you're among the few who can make such a boast. In 1974, at the height of his career, George C. Scott decided to bring this unusual tale to the big screen. He also wanted to prove that an independent film could be successful without being distributed by a major studio. Scott, ever-temperamental, was critical of how studios used Draconian methods to control and often compromise films in the name of making them more commercial. "The Savage Is Loose" was an off-beat tale set in the late 19th century that centers on a husband and wife, John and Maida (Scott and real-life wife Van Devere) who, along with their very young son, David (Lee Montgomery), find themselves shipwrecked on a desert island. The first challenge is to adapt to the conditions and learn to survive but the more crucial challenge comes years later when the son (John David Carlson) comes of age and has a sexual awakening. With his mother the only woman he has ever known, tensions rise as he competes with his own father for her attention. This is hardly the kind of scenario that would have motivated Disney to bid on distribution rights. However, its bold premise was the reason that Scott independently financed and distributed the film himself, thus ensuring that he had total artistic control.
"The Savage Is Loose" is a generally off-beat and engrossing film despite the premise of impending incest that haunts the three main characters. The movie is done on a modest budget and boasts only one impressive set piece: the wreck of the ship that has left the family stranded on this remote island. As the months and years pass, father and son return to the wreck to explore for any lost items that might be of practical value. John makes a pivotal decision relating to how to raise David, informing Maida that they must accept the fact that rescue seems highly unlikely and that in order to ensure that David survives when they are dead, he must be schooled in the art of hunting and self-reliance. For years, John tutors David to act as a "savage" and to not take pity on the animal life found on the island, as he must regard it as his only source of food and nutrition. The strategy works and we next see David as a teenager, already proving his expertise in tracking and killing dangerous wildlife. It's clear, however, that with the passing of the years, there is an unspoken tension within the family. David becomes sullen and rarely communicates with his mother and father. The cause is apparent: with his hormones raging, he has set his sites on his own mother, who he wants to take as his lover. Devoid of having been schooled in the niceties and customs of civilized society, David cannot understand why he can't take engage in this relationship. He only knows that his father is determined to keep him from fulfilling this goal. Consequently, the movie turns into a thriller in the latter section, with father and son forced to engage in a potentially deadly duel of wits and strength, as Maida observes in horror what can only be a tragic conclusion, no matter who prevails.
Scott came up with a distribution plan for the movie that was unique. Under this scenario, Scott would literally sell theaters prints of the movie and split the costs of advertising with them. The plan set off quite a bit of buzz in the industry with studio chiefs predictably calling it unworkable. They were proven right. Without the backing of a major studio with big advertising budgets, Scott was forced to peddle the film piecemeal to theaters, one at a time. Not helping matters was the off-putting subject matter. Although a fair number of theaters did end up showing the movie, it was quickly apparently that the buzz about the film didn't translate into public interest. The scathing reviews helped provide the coup de grace. ((The New York Times gave it an outright pan (click here to read)). The theaters played to mostly empty houses and quickly pulled the film from distribution, thus ending Scott's bold experiment. Scott blamed the fact that the film received an "R" rating for its weak performance but that was an absurd excuse. By 1974, an "R" rating was certainly not a factor that alienated audiences. The pity of it all is that there is much to admire in "The Savage is Loose".
Scott demonstrates admirable talent both in front of and behind the camera. His direction is understated, as is his performance, at least until the final reel when he must do battle with his own beloved son. Van Devere is also excellent, as is Montgomery in the early scenes in which David is an innocent little boy. Things go a bit awry when John David Carson takes over the role. His performance is effective but his look is all wrong. He sports a modern hair style and his language and mannerisms reflect the culture of the year in which the movie was made: 1974. Still, "The Savage is Loose" should not be dismissed because of a perceived "Yuck Factor" due to the impending threat of a mother taken unwilling as her son's lover. There are no villains here and Scott presents the dilemma as tastefully as possible. The very premise is enough to provide ample suspense for the average viewer. Scott makes the most of the picturesque Mexican coastal locations where the movie was shot.
"The Savage is Loose" is not available at this time on home video in America or the UK except for a bootleg version available through Amazon that could easily be misconstrued as an official release. (There had been an official Betamax and VHS release back in the Stone Age of home video). The quality of the transfer is adequate but only makes one desire to see a first-rate studio release. One suspects that convoluted rights problems might be preventing this but someone out there owns the distribution to this film. One hopes that a "real" Blu-ray/DVD release will one day become a reality.
first conscientious objector to receive the Congressional Medal of Honor is the
subject of “Hacksaw Ridge,” a World War II drama directed by Mel Gibson and based
on the true story of Desmond Doss. Doss was raised a Seventh-day Adventist who
had his faith tested after he enlisted in the Army to become a medic. The tale
of Desmond Doss is one of the most remarkable untold stories of World War II.
Book offers, movie contracts and other deals were offered after the war, but
Doss refused for decades. Hollywood studio executives even sent actor and fellow
World War II Congressional Medal of Honor recipient Audie Murphy in a futile
attempt to convince Doss to allow them to tell his story.
movie opens during the Battle of Okinawa where we briefly meet Desmond Doss
(Andrew Garfield) and his fellow soldiers in battle. The script then flashes
back 17 years to his childhood in rural Virginia where Desmond and his brother
are out exploring in the mountains. After returning home, Desmond nearly kills
his brother during a fight after he smacks his brother on the head with a brick
and knocks him unconscious. This event sends Desmond closer to the deep religious
beliefs shared with his mother. The boy’s father, Tom Doss (Hugo Weaving) is a
WWI veteran suffering from what is today known as post traumatic stress
syndrome, commonly referred to as PTSD. Their father drinks heavily, beats the
boys and traumatizes their mother. The movie flashes forward to America’s entry
into the war when Desmond meets his future wife, Dorothy Schutte (Teresa
Palmer), a nurse at an Army induction site in town. Desmond enlists as an Army
medic explaining to Dorothy, “I can’t stay here while all them go fight for
me.” When Desmond’s father questions his ability to serve in the Army while
holding non-violent beliefs, Desmond says, “While everybody else is taking
life, I’m going to be saving it. That’s going to be my way to serve.”
second act of the movie takes place at Army basic training where the likable Doss
refuses to use a weapon and becomes the recipient of hazing and retaliation
from his fellow soldiers who brand him a coward. Desmond stands by his conscientious
objector status and is jailed on the eve of his wedding. The Army offers him a
dishonorable discharge and will allow him to return home. Dorothy wants him to
accept the offer but Desmond stands by his beliefs and tells the courts martial
board, “With the world so set on tearing itself apart, it don’t seem like such
a bad thing to me to put a little bit of it back together.” All charges are
dropped after a high ranking general in Washington D.C. intervenes on behalf of
Desmond’s father and asserts Doss’ right to conscientious objector status. The
convening officer informs Doss he is “free to run into the Hellfire of battle
without a single weapon to protect yourself.”
extraordinary heroic events come in the third act after Doss and his comrades arrive
in Okinawa. There they make their way to the Maeda Escarpment which ranged
between 75 and 300 feet high. The escarpment became known as Hacksaw Ridge by
the soldiers because the Japanese continually advance forcing the Americans to retreat
followed by a new American advance and the resulting high casualties during the
back and forth-like conflict. After a naval bombardment, the men make the
assent climbing the rope ladder up the face of the cliff. Blood drips down on
some of the men as they make the climb and upon arrival it appears as though
nobody could have possibly survived. However, the Japanese are dug in underground
in machine gun bunkers and hidden deep inside impenetrable caves. The Americans
appear to have made a successful advance until a new wave of Japanese soldiers attack
in the morning and drive the Americans down the cliff. Over a hundred wounded
men are left on Hacksaw Ridge including Doss, who chooses to remain behind
enemy lines and help his fallen comrades. He evades death searching for and
rescuing soldiers while hiding from the Japanese and even helps some of their
wounded. He searches through the night and carries or drags the wounded to the
cliff face and lowers them down by rope one-by-one. Astounded soldiers deliver the
wounded men to the hospital where they are treated for their injuries.
Throughout the night Doss prays and asks to save just one more. He eventually
evacuates 75 men lowering them to safety.
When it comes to sci-fi films I will admit that I'm generally turned off by plots that involve peace-loving aliens who come to earth to help us lead better lives. I'd much rather have some insidious creatures with ray guns who are seemingly invulnerable as they try to pulverize mankind. Steven Spielberg's "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" and "E.T." were certainly landmark films with much to admire about them, but I'm generally more in the mood to watch his terrific remake of "War of the Worlds" in which we learned that if demonic aliens are to take on humanity, they apparently are going to start the attack in Bayonne, New Jersey. Director Denis Villeneuve's acclaimed Oscar-nominated film "Arrival" manages to convey enough ambiguity about the motives of visiting aliens to build genuine suspense. The film is the latest in a long line that refreshingly presents a female as the lead in a role that sixty years ago would have been played by Leslie Nielsen or Gene Barry. Adams plays Louise Banks, a single woman who teaches linguistics at a college in Montana. She came to the government's attention some years before when she assisted in interpreting during interrogations of suspected terrorists. Adams is living a benign lifestyle but as the film opens, we see that mankind is about to experience an incredible phenomenon: the arrival of twelve alien spaceships around the globe. As the world goes into a full-scale panic, Louise is approached by Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker) of U.S. Army Intelligence, who persuades her to join a quickly-assembled team of scientists and other intellectuals who have been brought to a remote field in rural Montana where an egg-shaped ship sits silently suspended in the air, just yards above the turf. Louise is told a shocking development that the public is unaware of: contact has been made with the inhabitants of the ship and the government is working with intelligence networks from around the world to find a way of communicating with them. Louise works closely with fellow linguist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner) and a small team as they nervously make their way into the inner sanctum of the alien craft. They have a peaceful but puzzling encounter with the beings from another world. (James Bond fans will be delighted to know that they appear to resemble giant versions of the Spectre organization's symbolic octopus.) Over the course of several days, Louise and the team frantically try to find a way for common communication with the aliens, who do not speak or make any noticeable sounds. Instead, they communicate via visual elements that resemble smoke rings, each one with a distinct meaning. Although the initial encounters appear to be non-threatening, Chinese intelligence discovers what they believe to be an inherent threat to mankind and before long, the world gears up for all-out war against the strange visitors. I won't say any more because "Arrival" is so filled with surprising and satisfying plot twists that any in-depth examination of the plot would reveal spoilers. Suffice it to say that the excellent screenplay by Eric Heisserer, based on Ted Chiang's novella "The Story of Your Life", is remarkably intelligent and never less than fascinating. I'm generally not a fan of films that don't proceed in a linear fashion and at times "Arrival" throws out scenes of Amy Adams with a young daughter that are initially impossible to interpret, as the story bounces around through time periods...or perhaps these scenes are dreams or fantasies. When it all comes together in the emotionally wrenching finale, "Arrival" has taken its place as one of the most innovative and satisfying science fiction movies ever made. It's also one of the greatest expressions of parental love I have ever seen depicted in any movie.
Adams is superb and should have been Oscar-nominated for her role. She gets able support from Renner and Whitaker, both of whom are excellent. Most of the credit goes to director Villeneuve, for whom this was a dream project. He avoids every sci-fi cliche imaginable, from the look of the aliens and their spaceship to the nature of the implicit threat they may well pose. The production design by Patrice Vermette is outstanding, as is the innovate musical score by Johan Johannsson. Paramount has released "Arrival" in a package containing a Blu-ray, DVD and digital download. There are the expected bonus extras which are far more interesting than most because they go beyond the usual mutual backslapping by actors and crew members. Instead, there is heavy-duty analysis of linguistics and scientific theories, thus appealing to anyone who has an inner nerd. Doubtless there will someday be an "Ultimate Special Edition" but now this will suffice. "Arrival" is a great movie. It may not appeal to viewers who want action over philosophy, but for those who aren't afraid to delve into the mysteries of life, this movie about interplanetary visitors is literally out of this world.
In the early 1970s producer and director Bob Chinn was one of the most prolific and profitable names in the adult film industry. Chinn's productions may have had skimpy production values but he generally made them look more grandiose than anything competing erotic film producers were able to offer. Like many filmmakers in this bizarre genre, Chinn aspired to do films that were more mainstream and meaningful. He entered a collaboration with Alain Patrick, a young hunky actor in the Jan-Michael Vincent mode who had his own aspirations to become a respected star. By 1971 Patrick had accumulated some legitimate film and TV credits but always in "blink-and-you'll-miss-him" roles. Like Chinn, he drifted into the adult film industry where he established some credentials as a director. He and Chinn teamed up that year in an attempt to make a mainstream movie about the porn film business. The result was "Blue Money", which has just been rescued from obscurity by Vinegar Syndrome, which has released the film as a special edition Blu-ray/DVD.
"Blue Money" suffers from the same limitations as Bob Chinn's other productions in that it was financed largely by people who expected to get a hardcore porn flick. Thus he was given a budget of $35,000, which was a pittance even in 1971, and a very abbreviated shooting schedule. Under Alain Patrick's direction, however, the movie went in a different direction and became a hybrid between the mainstream and porn film genres.Patrick gives a very credible performance as Jim, a 25 year-old surfer dude type who lives an unusual lifestyle. On the surface he leads an unremarkable existence: he has a pretty wife, Lisa (Barbara Mills) who is a stay-at-home mom who devotes her energies to raising their young daughter. Like most fathers, Jim is a dad who goes off to work every day...except that his "work" is directing pornographic feature films. Shooting in a seedy makeshift studio, Jim and and his partner sell the finished product to shady distributors who pay them premium prices for master prints of their latest 16mm productions. Because Jim is considered one of the top talents in the industry, theaters are always hungry for his latest films. Ironically, although Jim's career is filming people having sex, he prides himself on remaining loyal to his wife and resists the occasional overtures of his female stars. Jim and Lisa have a joint dream: they are renovating a schooner-type yacht with the quest of quitting the adult film industry and sailing around the world as free spirits. All of this is put at risk when Jim casts Ingrid (Inga Maria), an exotic European beauty who is desperate for money, in his latest production. Against his better judgment, Jim begins an affair with her- thus endangering his marriage after Lisa starts to become suspicious. At the same time the government is cracking down on the porn business. Suddenly, there is a dearth of distributors to take Jim's films. He is being paid far less than usual- and the entire industry is paranoid about the number of high profile arrests of performers, producers and directors in the porn business. Lisa begs Jim to quit but he wants to take his chances in the hopes of making enough money to finally finish the schooner's renovations and allow him to take his family on their-long planned journey.
"Blue Money" is an interesting production that never found acceptance by any audience. The film received some limited release in mainstream theaters but, although not quite hardcore, it is far too sexual for most general audiences. Conversely, people expecting to see a movie packed with gratuitous sex acts would also have been disappointed. Director Patrick has plenty of sex scenes and full frontal nudity but they are generally confined to the sequences in which we watch the actual filming of porn productions. In that respect, Patrick strips away any glamour or thrills from the process. Bored performers must enact explicit acts under hot klieg lights manned by total strangers. Jim must contend with moody actresses and actors who sometimes loath each other but who must engage in kinky sex. Every time Jim yells "Cut!", arguments can break out or the male leading man finds himself unable to perform on cue. Where the film excels is as a time capsule of sexual mores at the time of its production. There is much talk about the Nixon administration's Commission on Pornography report which had recently been released. Initiated by Nixon's predecessor, President Lyndon Johnson, the report came out during Nixon's first term in office. Nixon was confident that the report would legitimize his belief that pornography had a devastating effect on society- a talking point that would play well with his arch conservative base. Instead, the report basically said that there was no such evidence. Enraged, Nixon denounced the findings of his own commission and set about a crackdown on pornography. Countless man hours and millions of dollars were spent going after theater owners and people who made the films. In "Blue Money", when Jim is eventually arrested, the cops admit that the First Amendment would almost certainly ensure that he would win the court case- but the real strategy is to financially ruin those accused by having them spend their life savings on defending themselves. This gives the movie a hook that extends beyond the soap opera-like storyline centered on Jim's fragile relationship with his wife. The movie has a polished look to it and most of the performances are quite credible, with Patrick and Barbara Mills very good indeed.
Don Knotts came to fame with his trademark comedy style of portraying a meek, excessively nervous character. He was Woody Allen before Woody Allen was Woody Allen. Knotts honed his skills on Steve Allen's show in the 1950s, with his "man on the street" Nervous Nellie routine sending audiences into fits of laughter. He co-starred with fellow up-and-comer Andy Griffith in the hit Broadway production of "No Time for Sergeants" and the subsequent film version. When Griffith landed his own TV series in 1960 in which he played the sheriff of fictional small town Mayberry, Knotts imposed upon him to write a small, occasional part he could play as Barney Fife, Griffith's inept but loyal sheriff. Griffith complied and the role made Knotts an icon of American comedy, allowing him to win an astonishing five Emmys for playing the same character. Five years into the series, Knotts was offered a multi-feature deal by Lew Wasserman, the reigning mogul of Universal Pictures. Knotts took the bait and enjoyed creative control over the films to a certain degree. He could pretty much do what he wanted as long has he played the same nervous schlep audiences wanted to see. The films had to be low-budget, shot quickly and enjoy modest profits from rural audiences where Knotts' popularity skewed the highest. His first feature film was The Ghost and Mr. Chicken, released in 1966 and written by the same writing team from the "The Andy Griffith Show". (Griffith actually co-wrote the script but declined taking a writing credit.) The film astonished the industry, rolling up big grosses in small markets where it proved to have remarkable staying power. Similarly, his next film, The Reluctant Astronaut also proved to be a big hit, as was his 1969 western spoof The Shakiest Gun in the West. Within a few years, however, changing audience tastes had rendered Knotts' brand of innocent, gentle humor somewhat moot. By the late 1960s audiences were getting their laughs from the new film freedoms. It was hard to find the antics of a middle-aged virgin much fun when you could see Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice cavorting in the same bed. Still, Knotts soldiered on, providing fare for the drive-in markets that still wanted his films. In 1969 he made The Love God?, a very funny and underrated film that tried to be more contemporary by casting Knotts as an innocent ninny who is manipulated into fronting what he thinks is a magazine for bird watchers but, in reality, is a cover for a pornography empire. Knotts' traditional audience balked at the relatively tame sex jokes and for his final film for Universal, How to Frame a Figg, he reverted back to his old formula.
Released in 1971, Figg casts Don Knotts as the titular character, Hollis Figg, a nondescript wimp who toils as an overlooked accountant in a basement of city hall. The film is set in a Mayberry-like small town environment but any other similarity ends there. In Mayberry, only the visiting city slickers were ever corrupt. The citizenry may have been comprised of goofballs and eccentrics, but they were all scrupulously honest. In Figg's world, however, the top government officials are all con-men and crooks. They are ruled by the town's beloved paternal father figure, Old Charley Spaulding (Parker Fennelly), a decrepit character who hands out pennies to everyone he encounters, with the heart-warming greeting "A shiny penny for your future!" In fact, Old Charley has plenty of those pennies stashed away. He and his hand-picked fellow crooks, including the mayor and police chief, have been systemically ripping off the state by grossly inflating the costs of local building projects and secretly pocketing the overages. Concerned that the accountants might get wind of their activities, they summarily fire them all except for Figg, who is deemed to be too naive to ever catch on. They justify the firings by saying it's fiscally prudent and replace the accountants with a gigantic computer that is supposed to be even more efficient. Through a quirk of fate, Figg and his equally naive friend, Prentiss (Frank Welker), the janitor for city hall, discover exactly what is going on. Figg dutifully reports his findings to the mayor (Edward Andrews), who convinces him to keep it secret while he launches his own investigation. Old Charley, the mayor and their cohorts decide to make Figg the fall guy for the corrupt practices. They give him a big promotion, a new red convertible and even hire a private secretary for him. She's Glorianna (Yvonne Craig), a leggy femme fatale who wears mini skirts and oozes sex. When her attempts to seduce Figg leave him paralyzed with fear because of his allegiance to his new girlfriend, the equally virginal waitress Ema Letha (Elaine Joyce), Glorianna gets Figg drunk, takes some embarrassing photos of him and the proceeds to have him sign a stream of incriminating documents that he has not bothered to read. Before long, Figg is blamed for all the missing funds and faces a jail sentence- unless he and the dim-witted Prentiss can figure out how to use the computer to thwart the real crooks.
How to Frame a Figg is the weakest and least-remembered of Knotts' films for Universal but it still affords plenty of laughs. Knotts is essentially playing Barney Fife under a different name and even wears that character's trademark outdated "salt and pepper" suit. Knotts never broke any new ground but no one ever called for him to do so...his familiar persona was just what audiences wanted. Figg also provides a plethora of wonderful characters from the period including the great Joe Flynn and Edward Andrews, who excelled at playing smarmy men of authority. Also popping up are such familiar faces as Billy Sands and Bob Hastings, both of whom co-starred with Joe Flynn in "McHale's Navy". The appearance of cast members from that show isn't a coincidence because the film was produced by Edward J. Montagne, who also produced "McHale's Navy". Some of the humor is a bit forced, especially scenes concerning the character of Prentiss, with Frank Welker overplaying the lovable dumb klutz bit. However, Montagne and Knotts were a comfortable fit and he produced and/or directed all of Knotts' Universal feature films. Figg was directed by Alan Rafkin, who had helmed The Ghost and Mr. Chicken and The Shakiest Gun in the West. He understood the Knotts persona and capitalized on it with considerable skill. Another alumni of all those films, the inimitable composer Vic Mizzy, provides a typically jaunty score.
Following the boxoffice failure of How to Frame a Figg, Don Knotts successfully morphed into a featured player in many Disney movies, sometimes teaming with Tim Conway. The two of them would perform together on screen and on stage for decades until Knotts' death in 2006. In the 1970s, Knotts also broadened his fan base with his role on the popular sitcom "Three's Company". There seems to be a great deal of nostalgia for his feature films nowadays among baby boomers, with The Ghost and Mr. Chicken especially popular. How to Frame a Figg is not of that caliber but it holds up well as a very amusing family comedy.
The Universal DVD release includes the original trailer.
Elvis Presley is almost always associated exclusively with movie musicals. However, he did stray from the genre to make a Western in which he didn't warble one lyric. The film is Charro!, which is available from Warner Bros. Just as seemingly every actor tried to get on board the spy movie phenomenon of the mid-1960s, by the end of the decade they were attempting to similarly capitalize on the spaghetti western genre. This 1969 film is non-descript as a western - not among the best of the era but far from the worst. It does merit special consideration because perhaps more than any other of his films, Charro! exhibits a persona that Elvis had never been able to reflect onscreen - thanks to Colonel Parker's iron-fisted control over his career and his insistence that The King appear in outdated teen musicals. The razor-thin plot has Elvis trying to distance himself from a murderous gang he used to ride with. Gang leader Victor French isn't the kind of guy you quit on so he frames Elvis for crimes he didn't commit then tortures him into participating in an audacious plot that finds them stealing a giant cannon from the Mexican army and using it to blackmail a town.
If you're a retro movie lover make sure that "Florence Foster Jenkins" goes to the top of your must-see list. The acclaimed comedy is an old-fashioned film in the best sense of the term. In it Meryl Streep gives another truly inspired performances. In fact it's getting downright boring extolling her virtues as perhaps the finest screen actress we have today. Streep has a field day giving a tour-de-force performance as the titular character, a real-life New York eccentric who apparently had built a cult following that has lasted for decades. Set in the year 1944, we find Florence Foster Jenkins living a very comfortable life in her lush Manhattan apartment. She is catered to by her younger husband, St. Clair Bayfield (Hugh Grant), who acts as protector and mother hen over his emotionally and physically fragile wife. Florence suffers from a variety of serious health issues that has resulted in her marriage to St. Clair remaining chaste (he even resides in his own apartment.) Although Florence is his meal ticket to a life that allows him many luxuries, including dalliances with other women, St. Clair clearly adores his wife and oversees every aspect of her daily existence. This includes her obsession with opera music. Florence had a lifelong passion for it and dedicated her life to pursuing an operatic singing career. There was only one problem: she was the worst singer imaginable. Despite her passionate embrace of opera, Florence's renditions of these works inevitably resulted in her bellowing out barely recognizable, high-pitched assaults on the eardrums of anyone who had the misfortune of being within hearing range. However, Florence had one major ally in her quest: her bank account. A very wealthy woman, she was also a philanthropist who donated huge sums of money to the arts and New York's private clubs that pertained to the arts. Consequently, she was beloved by the relatively small number of people in this social circle who politely attended her "concerts" and enthusiastically applauded her efforts. Encouraged by the but insincere enthusiasm of her friends, Florence began to believe she was a truly great opera singer. All was well as long as her performances took place exclusively in front of such tolerant audiences where St. Clair could control every aspect of the show and pull enough strings to ensure she would always get a rousing reception.
The film begins with Florence's quest to hire a suitable pianist to help her with her daily auditions (such was her influence that some of the great names in music would tutor her privately). Florence settles on hiring Cosme McMoon (yes, that was his name), a nebbishy, shy young man (played by Simon Helberg) whose abilities as a virtuoso are unrecognized. Desperate for money, he cannot refuse St. Clair's generous salary offers (i.e bribes) to pretend that Florence is a great talent. He agrees and manages to ingratiate himself to her and grow fond and protective of her as well. Things go smoothly, though we do see that Florence is bravely struggling with a deteriorating medical condition. Alas, a major crisis emerges when Florence announces that she has rented Carnegie Hall and intends to give a concert there- and to invite on a gratis basis servicemen who are in New York on leave. St. Claire immediately recognizes the dilemma: up until now no critic has been able to review Florence's performances because they were all held at private venues. He knows all too well what awaits her when the press attends the performance at Carnegie Hall. The final section of the film shows her disastrous performance and St. Clair and Cosme's efforts to convince her that it was a triumph. However, they can only pull this off if they ensure that Florence does not have access to the reviews- and she determined to see them. This results in a frantic situation that approaches that of a farce in which extraordinary efforts are made to keep the bad news from the lovable lady.
"Florence Foster Jenkins" is a true gem of a movie, the kind they supposedly don't make any more. Everyone is dressed to the nines, sips champagne and engages in Noel Coward-like witty banter. Streep, Oscar-nominated for her role, is superb as ditzy would-be diva, accentuating her eccentricities but never allowing her to look unsympathetic. Hugh Grant channels Roger Moore's mannerisms so explicitly that one suspects his performance is an homage to the actor. In any event, this is the best work he's ever done and he should have been nominated for an Oscar for his role as the charismatic, charming rogue. It's hard to steal scenes from these two pros but Simon Helberg (of TV's "Big Bang Theory") manages to do so. He's a joy to watch and, like Grant, seems to have been cheated out of a possible Oscar nomination. Kudos, too, for the outstanding production design Alan MacDonald and the fine work of composer Alexandre Desplat.
The Paramount Blu-ray?DVD/digital format special edition features a wealth of interesting extras including interview with Meryl Streep about her life and career and featurettes dedicated to the production design, music, script process, etc. There is also a marvelous interview with Gino Francescino, who has been the curator of Carnegie Hall's historical memorabilia since 1986, much of which is shown (including rarities relating to the real-life Jenkins concert, which sold out but was never filmed or recorded). There is also a selection deleted scenes.
All told, this is a "must-have" release for movie lovers who want to take a sentimental journey back to the golden age of moviemaking.
The classic movie streaming channel FilmStruck launched in October. This is a joint venture between Turner Classic Movies and the Criterion Collection that allows subscribers to access classic and cult movies from the Criterion Collection through streaming services and view exclusive bonus content. Hundreds of films are available through the service and the library's titles will keep expanding on a regular basis.
The latest press release lists the streaming services that FilmStruck is now available on:
FilmStruck, the streaming movie service for film
aficionados, is now available on Google Chromecast second generation and
Chromecast Ultra devices. Continuing its rapid platform expansion, the
streaming service will also launch on Roku, Playstation 4 and Xbox One in
the coming months. FilmStruck, featuring the largest streaming library of
contemporary and classic arthouse, indie, foreign and cult films and the
exclusive streaming home to the Criterion Collection, is available for
streaming on Apple TV 4th generation devices,Amazon Fire TV, web, iOS and
The Warner Archive continues to delve into little-remembered crime movies with the release of F.B.I.: Code 98, yet another in the seemingly endless attempts of J. Edgar Hoover to use popular entertainment as a vehicle to promote himself and his bureau as incorruptible pillars of American society. (As usual, Hoover ensures he is personally thanked in the credits, mentioned in the script, depicted in photos on office walls and appears in footage at the end of the movie.) Still, this is a tense little thriller that engages the viewer from minute one with its timely depiction of a task force trying to prevent acts of home-grown American terrorism. The plot centers on a group of business executives who are flying to a government conference. Their company provides crucial materials and engineering for the U.S space program. A nondescript employee of their company concocts a clever scheme whereby he manages to switch out a piece of luggage being loaded onto the executive's corporate jet. Inside is a time bomb. Only a quirk of fate allows it to be discovered and dismantled in time. The F.B.I. is brought in under the direction of field director Robert Cannon (stiff-jawed Jack Kelly). He works with the intended victims to sort out who might have had a grudge against them and this inevitably leads to delving into some sensitive areas of their personal lives- including illicit affairs between married people. The film is tense and engrossing throughout, thanks to expert direction by Leslie Martinson. The capable supporting cast includes Ray Danton (whose baritone voice always seems overly dramatic for any role he played), the always-watchable Andrew Duggan, Philip Carey, William Reynolds, Jack Cassidy (in pure heterosexual mode) and Vaughn Taylor as the mousey, unlikely would-be terrorist. To compensate for the low budget, there are some unintentionally amusing gimmicks to provide some sweep to the locations. An F.B.I. office in Vegas looks directly out onto the casinos on the strip; a Washington D.C. office is in direct line with the Capitol Building; a Florida office has a view of a space launching pad. Still, Martinson's use of real locations throughout most of the film adds to the dramatic intensity. The film takes pains to present every F.B.I. man as scrupulously honest and dedicated. The worst they are guilty of is flirting with secretaries.
F.B.I.: Code 98 is well worth a look. It's tightly scripted, well-directed and doesn't have a single wasted frame.
The Universal Vault series has released the 1970 film "Sometimes a Great Notion" on DVD. Based on the novel by Ken Kesey, the film starred- and was directed by- Paul Newman. His skills as both actor and filmmaker and amply displayed in this engrossing, off-beat drama that never found its intended audience during its theatrical release, despite a heavyweight cast. The film is basically a domestic drama, though set amid the staggering beauty of the Oregon wilderness. The Stamper family runs one of the biggest logging operations around. The family's crusty patriarch, Henry (Henry Fonda), attributes the family's success to the fact that they lead a hard scrabble lifestyle and do much of the grueling work themselves rather than simply farming it out to paid employees. Henry ensures that he keeps the keys to his kingdom close to his vest: the only positions of power are held by him and his two sons, Hank (Paul Newman) and Joe Ben (Richard Jaeckel). Henry espouses his philosophy of life, which is that there isn't much purpose to existence other than hard work, eatin', drinkin' and screwin' (though perhaps not necessarily in that order). When we first meet the Stamper clan they are embroiled in a dispute with a union that represents loggers. The union has called for a strike and it appears that the workers have been dormant for quite some time. The Stampers refuse to accede to union demands that they stop their logging operations in order to show solidarity with the workers. Henry will have no part of it. He and his sons insult union representatives that come to reason with them and, in fact, physically terrorize one of them. Henry and his sons have no use for unions and adhere to the pioneer lifestyle in that every man has to fend for himself. A byproduct of this philosophy is that the Stampers are riding high as the only operating logging operation in the area. Consequently, the family gets all the business that the striking workers would ordinarily enjoy. However, the Stamper's luck is about to run out. Union members secretly begin to sabotage their operation and on one especially painful day, the family endures several tragedies of Shakespearean proportions.
Although top-billed and coming off the success of "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid", Newman doesn't hog the spotlight. As director, he's quite generous in ensuring that his co-stars get ample quality scenes. The film evokes a very believable atmosphere in terms of exploring the type of no-nonsense, working-class people who populate rural areas. At first glance the Stampers are a content clan but there are cracks in the facade. Hank's wife Viv (Lee Remick) is fed up with the misogynistic lifestyle she is trapped in. Among the Stampers, the women folk are meant to be seen but not heard. She was bored as a teenager growing up in a one-horse town until young Hank drove through on his motorcycle and literally swept her off her feet. Her dreams of an exciting life were quickly dashed and she now finds herself cooking and cleaning for a family of men who barely acknowledge her presence. Even romantic overtures to Hank go unrewarded and Viv is fed up with his inability- or unwillingness- to challenge his father's Draconian ways of managing the family and the business. Hank's younger brother Joe Ben is a happy-go-lucky, humorous fellow whose own wife Jan (Linda Lawson) shares his Born Again Christian beliefs and is quite content raising their kids and living a traditional lifestyle for women in this place and era. Dramatic tensions rise when Henry's estranged son Leeland (Michael Sarrazin) (Hank and Joe Ben's step brother) arrives out of the blue after being away for years. He's a troubled drifter with no particular goal or purpose in life. Henry welcomes him back but advises him that if he wants to stay, he'll have to learn how to work as a lumberman. There is also tension between Leeland and Hank because Hank once slept with Leeland's mother (!)
As director, Newman excels at capitalizing on Richard Moore's magnificent cinematography and making the lumber business seem quite interesting. The scenes of tumbling timber are thrilling and suspenseful and makes the viewer aware of just how dangerous this profession is, with the possibility of injury and death always only seconds away. In the film's most harrowing and best-remembered scene, Joe Ben is trapped under a log in a rapidly-rising river as Hank desperately tries to rescue him. Jaeckel is terrific here in a role that earned him a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination. The scene is difficult to watch but Jaeckel and Newman have never been better. (At the time of the film's release, critic Rex Reed complained that some of Jaeckel's best work in the film never made it into the final cut.) Screenwriter John Gay deftly sidesteps some anticipated cliches and every time you think you know where the story is going, it ends up in another direction. There is irony in Newman directing and starring in a film in which the protagonists are right wing and anti-union, as Newman himself was a career union man whose left wing activism earned him a place on President Nixon's notorious "Enemies List". (Newman claimed it was one of the great honors of his life.) There are some weaknesses: we never get any background on the merits of the case made by the striking loggers so we have no frame of reference as to whether we should sympathize with them or the Stampers. Also, some of the supporting roles are underwritten, especially Lee Remick's. Aside from one good scene in which she divulges her frustrations to Sarrazin, there's not much for her to do. The movie builds to its tragic climax although Newman does make sure there is a triumphant moment in the last scene, even if its represented in a rather gruesome fashion. It's a pity that Newman chose to direct only a few films. He was as impressive behind the camera as he was in front of it. The film also benefits from a fine score by Henry Mancini and the opening song, "All His Children" (sung by Charley Pride) was nominated for an Oscar. When the film failed to click at the boxoffice it was re-marketed under the title "Never Give an Inch"- although that strategy failed to work. Hopefully it will finally find a more receptive audience on home video.
The DVD transfer is superb but once again, Universal provides a bare bones release with nary a single bonus extra.
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If you enjoy the golden age of Blaxploitation films you'll be happy to learn about Brown Sugar, the new streaming service that describes itself "Like Netflix- only blacker!". The service, which costs $3.99 a month, features a gold mine of cult classics of the genre ranging from the Shaft films to action flicks starring icons Pam Grier, Jim Brown and Fred Williamson. The network says that many of the films in their catalog are not easily available on home video. Click here for more info.
Though Vincent Price would eventually garner a well-deserved
reputation as Hollywood’s preeminent bogeyman, it was only really with André De
Toth’s House of Wax (1953) that the actor would become associated with all
things sinister. In some sense the
playful, nervously elegant Price was an odd successor to the horror film-maestro
throne: he was a somewhat aristocratic psychotic who shared neither Boris
Karloff’s cold and malevolent scowl nor Bela Lugosi’s distinctly unhinged
madness or old-world exoticism.
His early film career started in a less pigeonholed
manner: as a budding movie actor with a seven year contract for Universal
Studios in the 1940s, the tall, elegant Price would appear in a number of semi-distinguished
if modestly-budgeted romantic comedies and dramas. His contract with Universal was apparently
non-exclusive, and his most memorable roles for the studio were his earliest. In a harbinger of things to come, Price would
register his first genre credit with Universal’s The Invisible Man Returns (1940),
a curiously belated semi-sequel to the James Whale 1933 classic. Though a satisfying B-movie vehicle, Price’s star
turn as the mostly transparent Geoffrey Radcliffe would be difficult work; it’s
an imposing task to make an impression when you’re only physically present for less
than half of a film.
More rewarding and noteworthy was his role as the
vengeful Clifford Pyncheon in Universal’s free adaptation of Nathaniel
Hawthorne’s brooding thriller The House of the Seven Gables (1940). That same year Price took a second memorable
turn as the effete, wine-imbibing Duke of Clarence in Rowland V. Lee’s Tower of
London. Purportedly a historical drama, Universal couldn’t help but play up the
horror-melodrama elements of Richard III’s grisly ascent to the British
throne. The scene when the Duke of
Clarence meets an ironic fate at the hands of the conniving, merciless and
bloodthirsty tag-team of Basil Rathbone and Boris Karloff is, without doubt, one
of cinema’s great exits.
Though the actor would tackle all types of roles for his
next employer, 20th Century Fox, he had begun his transition from leading man
once-removed to a roguish sort of character actor, one short of neither charm
nor avarice. In 1953 the actor’s career
would be forever changed when he accepted the role of the mad Professor Henry
Jarrod in House of Wax, Warner Bros.’ colorful 3-D remake of Michael Curtiz’s The
Mystery of the Wax Museum (1933). The
success of the sinister House of Wax inspired that film’s freelance producer,
Bryan Foy, to – essentially – remake the same film for Columbia Pictures within
a year’s time. Unlike Universal or
Warner Bros., Columbia seemed less eager to embrace and invest long-term in 3-D
technologies, and The Mad Magician was one of the studio’s final rolls of the
dice in that format.
Bryan Foy had began his show business career in
vaudeville so it was only natural that both House of Wax and The Mad Magician share
the greasepaint, steamer trunks, velvet curtains and theatrical back stories of
the producer’s youthful experience. As he
had with House of Wax, Foy again tapped the talent of his favorite scribe, Crane
Wilbur, to write what was essentially a House of Wax pastiche. Wilbur was a seasoned pro who could knock out
a quick copy that still had integrity; both of the Victorian-era horror films he
would craft for Foy stylishly unraveled in thrilling fashion with neat twists
and memorable dialogue. In a wise move,
the German born John Brahm, an undeniably brilliant director of moody,
atmospheric thrillers and melodramas – mostly for 20th Century Fox - was
brought on to direct.
The most notable returnee was, of course, Vincent Price,
now typecast and expected to again menacingly wield his distinct brand of on-screen
villainy. With his stagey, Shakespearean
acting style having been honed early in his career, Price’s performances occasionally
teetered between outright flamboyance and devilishly morose… perhaps even a bit
hammy. That said, the actor’s refined
mannerisms and theatrical gesturing was refreshingly different from the common
brutishness of the usual cinematic heavies. His characters tended to be tortured souls as well; his villains were conflicted
but not unsympathetic individuals driven to madness by life’s travails and treacheries.
In House of Wax and The Mad Magician, the actor similarly
plays the part of a maligned artist. In
both films, his protagonists hide behind a series life-masks created solely for
the purpose of deception. As sculptor Henry
Jarrod in the former film, the devoted artist sees his beloved wax figures go
up in flames due to the actions of an unscrupulous business partner; Jarrod’s
scheming, unsentimental associate is not at all interested in the artist’s
creations. He’s only interested in the
swift collection of ill-gotten monies from his insurance fraud scheme. In The Mad Magician Price similarly portrays Don
Gallico, a low wage, belittled designer of magic tricks and illusions. Gallico
is the creative energy behind successful owner Russ Orman’s (Donald Randolph) respected
theatrical magic factory Illusions, Inc. Tired of seeing his boss farm out his very personal creations to more celebrated,
famous magicians – most notably the egotistical and scheming Great Rinaldi
(John Emery) – Gallico optimistically and dreamingly pines of someday being
recognized as a great stage magician himself.
Gallico is certain that day is not far off. In an attempt to attract attention to his own
talent, the magician tests a self-produced illusionist show in a cozy theater
in Hoboken, New Jersey. This engagement
is merely a step stone to his ultimate dream of securing a coveted booking on
Broadway and 44th Street. While his most
recent and exciting illusion, “The Lady and the Buzz Saw,” pushes the envelope
of high tension to an anxious extreme, Gallico is certain his work in progress –
an escape-artist illusion involving a gas-fueled 3500 degree inferno dubbed
“The Crematorium” will be the vehicle to bring him stardom at last. But Gallico’s dreams are soon dashed when the
well-heeled Orman, who years earlier had unsentimentally stolen away the
illusionist’s gold-digging wife (Eva Gabor), informs him to carefully read the
fine print of their business contract. In
a nutshell, Orman owns all of Gallico’s intellectual properties: contractually his inventions are not his
own. Needless to say, this soul crushing,
career-ending turn of events does not bode well for the briefly self-satisfied
Orman… and others.
Kino Lorber has released a Blu-ray edition of the 1973 Euro Western "The Man Called Noon", based on the novel by Louis L'Amour. The film was produced by Euan Lloyd, who had previously brought L'Amour's novel "Shalako" to the screen in 1968 starring Sean Connery, Brigitte Bardot and an impressive supporting cast. "Noon" is no "Shalako". It's more in line with Lloyd's filmed production of L'Amour's "Catlow", which was released in 1971 (i.e instantly forgettable). Like so many Westerns of the era, it's a strange hybrid production top-lining well-known American stars with a supporting cast of European actors. The result is a reasonably entertaining but completely unremarkable horse opera that plays out with a familiarity akin to that of the well-trod shooting locations in and around Almeria, Spain. Richard Crenna, in a rare top-billed role in an action flick, plays the titular character, Rubal Noon, a notorious gunslinger. In the film's opening minutes he narrowly escapes an assassination attempt but is wounded in the process and, in that tried and true movie cliche, loses his memory. He doesn't remember who he is or why anyone tried to kill him. He is befriended by a shady saddle tramp, Rimes (Stephen Boyd), who informs him that he's wanted by the law and a virtual army of killers is after him. Rimes takes Noon to a ranch that serves as an outlaw hideout. It's owned by Fan Davidge (Rosanna Schiaffano), who has been kept captive on the ranch by the outlaws and forced to serve as their leader's mistress. Within seconds of meeting, Noon and Fan begin making goo-goo eyes at each other and we know that can only lead to trouble. It's at this point that the screenplay by Scot Finch becomes overly convoluted almost to the point of parody. A long series of facts and clues are presented to Noon that gradually help him discover his motivations and why so many people are after him. The jumbled explanations have something to do with avenging the deaths of loved ones and having knowledge of a secret cache of buried gold. However, by the time all of this is explained, there is no "A-ha!" moment of revelation. Instead, one just sits and ponders the long string of characters, names and confusing plot developments. On several occasions I backtracked on the Blu-ray disc, thinking I overlooked some obvious information but it still seemed like a confusing mess so I just gave up, sat back and enjoyed the frequent action sequences. Crenna does well enough in an undemanding, completely humorless role. The few moments of levity are provided by Boyd, who plays a character of dubious allegiance. Farley Granger shows up as a bad guy and Schiaffano is as lovely as ever, but the characters are poorly defined and the most impressive aspect of the movie are the well-staged stunts courtesy of legendary arranger Bob Simmons, who devised some of the best fight scenes in the James Bond series. Luis Bacalov provides the sometimes impressive requisite Morricone-like score. The finale of the movie finds the heroes holed up in a burning cabin surrounded by an army of antagonists. The scenario is similar to that in John Huston's "The Unforgiven" but with far less credibility. (Noon's method of terminating Granger's character is downright absurd.) The film was directed by Peter Collinson, who had shown great innovation and skill with his 1969 version of "The Italian Job". Not many of those skills are on view in "The Man Called Noon", which Collinson directed in a manner best described as workmanlike. Sadly, the young director never fulfilled his potential and ended up directing mid-range and mediocre fare before passing away in 1980 at only 44 years of age.
The Blu-ray from Kino Lorber has a crisp, clean transfer. There is a bonus trailer gallery that includes other Westerns available from the company including "Duel at Diablo", "Billy Two Hats", "Barquero", "The Spikes Gang" and "Navajo Joe".
First things first; it’s obvious from 1966 through 1972
the seemingly idyllic small islands dotting the UK were no place to summer
vacation. In 1966 poor Peter Cushing
lost his left hand to a rampaging horde of flesh-eating silicates on the isle
of Petrie (aka the Island of Terror), a few miles east off of Ireland’s
coastline. In 1973, Hammer Horror icon
turned Celtic pagan Christopher Lee sacrificed an investigating Christian
martyr to the flames on the bonny banks of Summerisle in Robin Hardy’s 1973 grim
thriller-mystery, The Wicker Man. One year before The Wicker Man would have its
theatrical debut, Tigon-British Film Productions would release the
environmental-thriller Doomwatch (1972). Set on the isle of Balfe (actually Cornwall), Doomwatch tells the tale
of still another plagued and isolated island off the English coast. This time the inhabitants are desperately
trying to hide a seemingly monstrous secret from the prying eyes of outsiders. It goes without saying that the production of
these three films was likely not bankrolled by anyone from the British Tourist
Director Peter Sasdy’s 1972 sci-fi mystery, Doomwatch
recounts the story of Dr. Del Shaw (Scottish actor Ian Bannen), who teams up
with the island’s imported schoolteacher Victoria Brown (Judy Geeson) to
unravel the mystery behind the closeted deformities of the island’s native
inhabitants. Dr. Shaw, who works for a government-funded anti-pollution
campaign, somewhat pessimistically coded Doomwatch, soon finds out that British
navy - through an unscrupulous intermediary - had used the bay surrounding the
island of Balfe to secretly and illegally dump sealed canisters of radioactive
waste. Time and the sea have since
caused these seals to give way, with the resulting leakage infecting the
village’s fishing industry. As seafood
is the primary diet of the islanders, the exposure to toxins and unnatural
growth hormones has unleashed an outbreak of acromegaly. This disfiguring
disease is not an invention of screenwriter Clive Exton. As any scholar of classic horror can tell
you, this is the all-to-real growth-hormone aberration was suffered (and
tastelessly exploited) by Universal Studios in their casting of horror actor
Rondo Hatton as The Creeper. Though this
pituitary gland disease is a result of radioactive elements contaminating the
island’s fish supply, the natives are unaware of the Navy’s polluting of their
waters. The insular and deeply religious
community believes the island’s plague is simply God’s punishment for their
immorality and inbreeding. It’s this
deep-seated shame that has long prevented them from getting help from the
Sasdy’s film was loosely based off a BBC television
series of the same name (1970-1972) which featured a team of
activist-scientists fighting new, mysterious environmental and health threats
in the post-Atomic age. These television threats would include such plights as
enlarged radioactive rats, plastic-eating viruses, and chemical toxins that
could destroy all of Earth’s plant life. This fear of manmade and unchecked
environmental calamity was carried on in Doomwatch the film; the storyline
centers on the dangers of radioactive elements and the consequences of improper
storage and disposal methods of such harmful toxins. These issues were of
course, not uncommon during the time, as in the early 1970s environmental issues
were at the forefront of global public consciousness. Not coincidentally, in 1972, the year the
film was first released, the United States would pass the Clean Water Act with
the aim of eliminating toxic waste from global waters.
Though Bannen and Geeson are the film’s principal
players, the film sports a strong supporting cast of familiar faces. Geoffrey Keen, who plays Sir Henry, the man
responsible for the illegal radioactive dumping, will be recognizable to
filmgoers for his tenure as the Minister of Defence in six James Bond films
(beginning with Roger Moore’s The Spy Who Loved Me through Timothy Dalton’s The
Living Daylights). Another recognizable face is that of George Sanders, who
enjoyed a legendary long career in film and television and pop-culture (he
portrayed Leslie Charteris’ The Saint in no fewer than five films (1939-1941)
and even as the chilling Mister Freeze in TV’s Batman series of 1966.
Kino Lorber’s new Blu-Ray release of Doomwatch is of
definitely interest to film enthusiasts. Special features include an “On Camera
Interview” with actress Judy Geeson, audio commentary and introduction to the
film courtesy of director Peter Sasdy, and a gallery of film trailers for other
recent Blu-Ray releases of Kino-Lorber.
should say upfront that with a couple of notable exceptions I'm not a big fan
of John Carpenter's work. I wish I was, I really do (and I'll never give up on
him), but I'm just not. It strikes me that for every exceptional film he made –
Halloween, Escape from New York, The Thing – there’s a handful of distinctly
underwhelming offerings: They Live, Ghosts of Mars, The Fog, Prince of Darkness,
Village of the Damned, Body Bags, Escape from L.A., Vampires, In the Mouth of
Madness…the list goes on. I concede that many of these films are widely revered,
so would stress again that these are titles that have left me personally
feeling unfulfilled and I readily acknowledge that my opinions are those of a
minority. Assault on Precinct 13 (1976),
which as with many of his films, Carpenter wrote and scored as well as
directed, was his second theatrical feature following Dark Star two years
earlier, and for me it resides upstream of the mid-water between the few titles
I greatly admire and the regrettable majority that I deem to be
the aftermath of the slaying of some of their pack by the police, the
formidable Street Thunder gang swear a "Cholo" – a blood oath of
vengeance – decreeing that they'll bring war to the streets of Los Angeles.
Meanwhile Special Officer Starker (Charles Cyphers) is transporting three
prisoners between penitentiaries when one of them falls seriously ill. Starker
decides to locate a police station to get the trio into confinement whilst he
summons a doctor. Unfortunately, the nearest is in the process of being
decommissioned and relocated to a new site and is thusly staffed by bare bones
personnel, but the officer overseeing the closure, Lieutenant Ethan Bishop
(Austin Stoker), nevertheless agrees to let Starker use the holding cells. Then
Lawson (Martin West) – the father of a little girl murdered by the gang (and who
subsequently pursued the perpetrators, shooting one of the head honchos dead) –
stumbles in to Anderson in shock and seeking refuge. Armed to the teeth, dozens
of gang members converge on the premises to make Lawson pay for killing one of
on Precinct 13 was fashioned by Carpenter as a modern day western and with
traces of Howard Hawks' Rio Bravo coursing through its veins it's very much
that. Yet it's also impossible to ignore the aroma of George Romero's seminal The
Night of the Living Dead in its structure: a gathering of disparate characters,
the most intuitively improvisational of whom is portrayed by a black actor, are
holed up in an isolated location with little hope of help and where, despite
internal disputes, they're forced to put aside their differences and work
together to defend themselves from a relentless army of hostiles whose
merciless intent is to see them all dead.
a few mildly engaging scenes which serve to establish the panoply of
characters, Carpenter reaches out and grabs his audience by the throat with a
suspenseful and shocking sequence revolving around a little girl who realises
she's been served the wrong flavour of ice cream. Thereafter the director
incrementally stokes the tension with the aid of time stamps that appear at
regular intervals in the corner of the screen and not only lend the proceedings
a documentary feel but ratchet up audience apprehension as the titular assault gets
things kick off and the first wave of defenders has been taken out in a spray
of carnage it's pretty much high octane action through to the (slightly
anticlimactic) finish line. There are, however, some quieter moments
punctuating the mayhem and it's during these that Carpenter's excellent
characterisations are given room to breathe. Particularly enjoyable is the chemistry
and burgeoning mutual respect between lawman Bishop and felon Napoleon Wilson
(an impeccable Darwin Joston); come the end you can't help wishing these guys
could have taken off together on a new adventure. Also memorable in this
respect is Laurie Zimmer as an Anderson secretary who Wilson takes a shine to
and, once again, one is left wistfully musing that the relationship between
them might have been explored further.
particular standout scene during these welcome moments of quietude plays on the
innate human instinct for self-preservation; a character suggests that they
hand over Lawson to the gang in order to save their own skins, but Bishop nobly
refuses to be party to such an egregious undertaking.
already mentioned aside, there are fine performances too from Tony Burton,
Charles Cyphers and Nancy Loomis (the latter two would be reunited as father
and daughter in the director's next big screen release, Halloween).
by a typically infectious Carpenter score – particularly its thrumming core
synth theme – Assault on Precinct 13 is a raw and intense low-budgeter, the
creativity of which obscures its budgetary constraints, and which has not only
improved with age but in 2005 spawned a starry (and unexpectedly decent)
the film was shot as The Siege, its title changed at the behest of the
distributor in favour of something punchier. Although Assault on Precinct 13 is
arguably a better choice it's also a bit of a misnomer, since nowhere in the
film itself is there a "Precinct 13", let alone one that comes under
movie has been available on Blu-ray and DVD before, but its recent UK 40th anniversary
incarnation from Second Sight makes for an irresistibly double-dip-worthy
proposition. Aside from a pristine 2.35:1 ratio hi-def transfer from a newly
restored print the release includes some exceptional bonus goodies. On
both the individually available Blu-Ray and DVD, along with a terrific assembly
of interview material – Director John Carpenter, actors Austin Stoker and Nancy
Loomis, Art Director Tommy Lee Wallace (who also handled sound effects duties),
and Executive Producer Joseph Kaufman – there are two commentaries (from
Carpenter and Wallace), a trailer and some radio spots. Exclusive to the Blu-Ray
box set release are "Captain Voyeur" (a comical short black &
white student film written and directed by Carpenter in 1969), and a
partially-subtitled 2003 documentary entitled "Do You Remember Laurie
Zimmer?"; chronicling the extensive efforts by a French film crew to
locate the actress who retired from the business many years ago. It certainly
has “will they or won't they find her?” appeal, but rambles a little and would
have benefited from being pared down to half its 53-minute runtime. Also
exclusive to the box set are a selection of art cards and a CD pressing of
by Anthony Bushell, who also co-directed (with Reginald Beck) and appears
on screen as a courtroom attorney, 1951's The Long Dark Hall opens with two
brutal, night-shrouded murders in rapid succession, priming the audience for
what promises to be a tasty serving of Brit-noir. Regrettably, with the
identity of the murderer openly revealed in the first scene and the wrong man
hastily arrested for the crime, it tailspins into a mediocre courtroom drama
with a crushingly dissatisfying denouement. Seldom has a film been quite so
severely undermined by such an incredulously vapid wrap-up, one so abrupt in
fact that you have to wonder if they misplaced the last dozen pages of the
script, forcing them to hastily improvise!
shadowy figure who considers himself ‘an instrument of justice’ and whose name
we never learn (Anthony Dawson) is stalking the streets of London murdering
showgirls. When Rose Mallory (Patricia Wayne) is found dead, the finger of
suspicion points to Arthur Groome (Rex Harrison), a respectable married man who
was having a troubled affair with her. Standing trial with only circumstantial
evidence to convict him, Groome's efforts to play down his relationship with
Rose make him look ever more guilty. Convinced of his innocence and prepared to
overlook his infidelity, Groome's wife Mary (Lilli Palmer) remains stoically at
his side throughout. But the murderer has another agenda and, finagling a
meeting with Mary outside the court one afternoon, he begins to worm his way
into her trust.
Long Dark Hall was scripted by Nunnally Johnson and W.E. Fairchild from an
Edgar Lustgarten novel, "A Case to Answer", its story relayed
through extended flashbacks as a writer researches material for his new book.
Structured as such, one could take issue with several blatant plot anomalies
born thereof, but the real problem is that in laying all its cards on the table
from the get go and failing to keep an ace up its sleeve, beyond the question
of how – or if – Groome will escape his predicament, in terms of suspense the
movie has nowhere to go. Which is a bit of a shame because there are some very
fine, committed performances on the show here. Rex Harrison imbues the
beleaguered Groome with sufficient enough self-reproach over the whole sorry
business that in spite of his flawed judgement one can't help but root for him;
this was an era when the crime of murder carried the death sentence, yet he blithely
continues to play economical with the truth. As good as Harrison is though,
it's Anthony Dawson who snares the most memorable scene in the film. Arriving
at the Groome residence in the midst of a thunderstorm and welcomed in by Mary,
his charming facade slips away and he makes unwelcome advances on her. Wreathed
in menace, the whole sequence is lit and shot to perfection. Dawson, whose best
films in a long career were those in which he portrayed shifty and despicable
rogues (Dr. No, Dial M for Murder, Curse of the Werewolf), was never more
intimidating on screen than he is in this scene. The ever-dependable Raymond
Huntley is on excellent form as the investigating officer and there are fairly
brief but memorable appearances by a boyish Michael Medwin and dear old Ballard
Berkeley (in another of his policeman turns, promoted this time round to
Superintendent). Also showcased here is the film debut of Jill Bennett, who
gets but a single line of dialogue before falling victim to Dawson's knife.
spite of its deficiencies, if one can forgive the painfully weak ending, The
Long Dark Hall makes for entertaining and undemanding enough post-Sunday-luncheon
fare. And if nothing else there's curiosity value to be found in the fact the
film represents one of the cruellest examples of art imitating life: When it
was being made Harrison and Palmer were husband and wife and no doubt still recovering
from the strain placed on their marriage by his fling a couple of years earlier
with actress Carol Landis, who’d committed suicide when the relationship hit
the rocks. Palmer supported Harrison throughout that whole ordeal. One imagines
it wasn't too difficult for Harrison to conjure up the desperately forlorn and
contrite expression on Groome's face as he stands in the dock.
film has been released on DVD in the UK as part of Network Distributing's
ongoing 'The British Film' collection. Presented in 1.37:1 ratio, it's a
nice transfer from the original film elements. The sole supplement is a short
gallery of international poster art and lobby cards.
Adapted fairly faithfully from Shaun Hutson's celebrated
novel of the same name, upon its release in 1988 director J.P. Simon’s Slugs slunk
comfortably into the subgenre of "nature gone crazy" frighteners
which over the years had found mankind besieged by worms, spiders, rats, ants,
frogs, bees and, er, rabbits (no, really!). And, just as the best of them had
it, Slugs’ beasties weren't of the common or garden kind, they were of the
supersized, extra squishy variety...with teeth…oh, and a taste for human flesh.
The inhabitants of a small American town – the site of a
former dumping ground for toxic waste – fall victim to a nightmarish contagion
of slugs and it's up to Council Health Inspector Mike Brady (Michael Garfield)
to sort it out. He quickly learns that not only are they deadly but that
they've contaminated the fresh water system. With the mutilated dead bodies of
townsfolk piling up and the authorities dismissing Brady's outlandish theories,
he turns to scientist John Foley (Santiago Alvarez) for help. Foley concocts an
efficacious amalgam of chemicals he believes will destroy them and the two men
set off to locate the slugs' breeding ground in the sewers.
J.P. Simon is better known to connoisseurs of terror cinema
as Spaniard Juan Piquer Simón, whose most notorious celluloid
offering was crazed 1982 slasher Pieces. Slugs sacrifices the
inherent sleaze factor of that film and doesn’t even attempt to match its
infamous ultra-gory effects. But what the two do share in common is
that the performances of the participants are uniformly risible and both films
are hampered by truly wretched dialogue, the mostly stilted delivery of which
only accentuates just how awful it is.
And yet, again as with Pieces, these frailties – if,
when attributed to a film with such a dubious pedigree as Slugs, they can
even be called frailties – add a welcome vein of unintentional humour.
Take, for example, this early dialogue exchange between
Brady and his wife when she draws his attention to some slugs in the flowerbeds
Him: Jesus Christ, those things are big!
Her: I told you they were big.
Him: Big? They're gigantic!!
He reaches down to touch one and recoils.
Him: Damned thing bit me!
Her: What kind of a slug bites someone?
Him: I don't know, but he's living in your garden!!
Slugs’ functionality as a "horror film" is
understandably subjective, being directly proportionate to one's feelings about
the titular gastropods. Let's face it, they aren't scary, or even intimidating
for that matter; never mind run, you could stroll away from them.
However, what most people do probably deem them to be is pretty repulsive. And
on that score Simón employs his cast of thousands to admirably